In the style of the classic Clive Cussler adventures of the 20th century, Paul Kemprecos does an amazing job of writing White Death, a swashbuckling Kurt Austin adventure that reminded me of the feel of old 007 movies of Sean Connery & Roger Moore, but mixed with oceanic scientific concepts and historical intrigue. Kurt Austin may not be Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, but he almost holds the same spot with his classically heroic, epic, smart, and crazily adventurous shenanigans.
Written(and released) early in the 21st century, it still has the feel of the previous century, with its bold, larger-than-life heroes and vile, almost comical, evil villains; an exciting supporting cast of characters, some of whom feel positively unrealistic while others are purely satirical; technically detailed descriptions and a slow, but immersive narrative that’s both driven by the plot and characters; secret bases of the villain, comically Bondian hatchet men, an evil plan of the bloodthirsty villain that threatens to almost destroy the world’s marine life.
The main story opens with an environmental activist group that’s staging a protest against the whale slaughtering ritual of the people of Faroe Islands when their ship malfunctions and sinks a Danish Navy cruiser. Kurt Austin and his equally insane and brilliant sidekick Joe Zavala are testing a submersible, deep water salvage vehicle, with the Russian Navy, and volunteer for the rescue attempt of the Danish ship’s crew. They beat the odds by bringing their submersible to the Faroe Islands in time by leveraging Russian help and use their ingenuity to save all the sailors who were suffocating to their deaths at the ocean floor. Like any Cussler story, the initial rescue operation leads the protagonists down a rabbit hole of conspiracies.
Hailed as a local hero in the Faroe Islands, Austin soon dives to investigate the wreck of the environmental group’s ship to find its systems sabotaged. This evidence frees the activist leader in the local courts, but Kurt’s curiosity and the coincidences surrounding the sinking make him stay to investigate an industrial fishing facility run by a shadowy mega-corporation. His journey takes him to a remote village, secret caves filled with prehistoric paintings to objects used by the Viking explorers, marvelous hiking trails, and a secret facility filled with monstrous mutant fishes and thugs who don’t let witnesses live. Kurt’s stay in this location, though mystical and calmly exciting, comes to an explosive end while he accidentally makes unlikely but powerful allies.
He investigates a genetically modified type of fishes with experts who confirm that it’ll wipe out all natural marine life if released into the open waters. Kurt also consults historians to uncover the other parts of the plot that involve a lost German blimp named Nietzsche from the 1930s, and a conflict between an evil Spanish Conquistador and the leader of the Basque people from around 500 years ago. This connects to Kurt’s powerful alley against the villain, the leader of the Basque separatist movement, a group who are labeled as terrorists but aim to get autonomy from Spain. Kurt’s agreements with them lead to a hunt for the fabled sword of Roland, a mystical symbol for the Basque people.
The villains are a superficially inhuman splinter group of tribal Inuit Eskimos who have a violently savage culture as opposed to the other peaceful Inuit tribes. Their leader, referred to by the name of their culture’s devil, is a mixed breed descendant of a British whaler and the Arctic tribe. This villain, a brilliant genetic scientist in the open while being the shadowy billionaire behind the Oceanus fishing conglomerate, suffers from a form of Albinism that makes him avoid sunlight like a vampire, and stays a cold-blooded killer till the end.
Kurt’s action scenes range from explosive boat chases, a dog sledge chase down the Nation Mall at Washington DC to escape savage giant Eskimos who throw harpoons to kill, a tactical raid at a giant dome-shaped futuristic facility in Canada, and a sword fight on top of an old blimp that’s burning in the sky. It’s crazy, but that’s the type of entertainment found inside an old-fashioned Clive Cussler adventure.
The recurring cast from the NUMA universe has appearances from the foodie/historian St. Julien Perlmutter, tech genius Hiram Yaeger, and the enigmatically strategic Admiral Sandecker at the helm of NUMA, who knows that they’re not a mere underwater research organization. The Trouts are a fun couple who play a second tier sidekick to Kurt Austin in their own adventurous investigation into Oceanus’ mutant monster fishes. The female lead, who’s the legal advisor for the activist group, has a fun chemistry with Austin, although she and her boss keep increasing his troubles in the plot leading to the final explosive face-off with the villain.
Kurt Austin by himself is an exciting character with his collection of antique pistols, his boathouse, and his regular reading of classical philosophy and literature. He’s powerfully enigmatic, while still human at heart, and regularly consults the writings of Nietzsche and other great thinkers for the sake of understanding his sanity.
While not being serious in any way, the book is successful in being a classically fun dose of necessary entertainment for a weekend. White Death is an epic men’s adventure classic that works to give an immersive and fun experience with a heavy suspension of disbelief and a nostalgia for a lost era of grand heroes and thrilling escapades.