In 1918, Russia was fighting the external threat of the Germans in World War II, and the Bolsheviks were assuming power within. In this perilous political climate, a freighter captain is asked to take on a special cargo and secretive passengers in the dead of night to help them escape the revolution. The ship is sunk with but one survivor, who may be the last remaining member of the Russian royal family...
Fast forward to the present. A retired oceanographer is hauling in his lobster catch off the Maine coast when a mysterious ship sails by. Almost immediately thereafter, accompanied by a muffled boom from below, the seas go crazy, rising and falling violently beneath his boat. He immediately recognizes the seemingly impossible has happened, and a tsunami is headed for the small town of Rocky Cove, Maine. He manages to warn the town in time to evacuate the harbor, reducing a potentially catastrophic death toll to one stubborn resident.
Meanwhile, in the Aegean Sea, the advanced research submarine NR-1 is hijacked deep beneath the surface by persons unknown. It disappears from under the noses of the U.S. Navy. A film crew in the Black Sea, on site to investigate the possible resting place of Noah's Ark and meet with a NUMA crew is attacked by mysterious men dressed as Cossacks and wielding authentic weapons of the period. They are rescued by the timely arrival of Kurt Austin, NUMA Special Assignments Director, flying an experimental ultralight. As he hustles them off to his waiting ship, he learns they had taken a detour on their way to meet him to investigate rumors of a secret Soviet submarine base.
So begins Fire Ice, the third novel from the NUMA files, by Clive Cussler and Paul Kemprecos. As always, the pair bring us a fast-paced adventure combining historical research and love of the sea to take Kurt Austin and his compatriots on a race to save the world. In this case, the threat is a Russian oil and gas tycoon who believes his is the direct descendant of the Romanov family and rightful Tsar. His plan is to detonate deposits of fire ice, or methane hydrate, off America's East Coast. The resulting tsunamis will destroy three major cities and cripple the United States, while the massive release of methane into the atmosphere will trigger a major global warming event, turning the American heartland into a dustbowl, and the Siberian steppes into the new breadbasket of the world. A terrifyingly plausible plot, as scientsts believe that ancient releases of the volitile gas did trigger such events.
The storyline is pure Cussler, which makes for an enjoyable read. The novel stands on its own; no prior knowledge of Kurt Austin's adventures is necessary to follow the story, though the characters do occasionally make mention of events from the previous two novels in the series. The research that went into the story is, as always, impressive; Cussler and Kemprecos exploit a mystery from the Bolshevik revolution, the actual fate of the Romanovs, to give the villain a potential link to the Tsars of old.
Sure, Fire Ice, is formulaic. But it is a fun formula, and in now way lessens the enjoyment of a good adventure tale. Curling up on the couch with this book is a great way to spend a quiet afternoon, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys fast-paced action and adventure.
Cussler, Clive and Paul Kemprecos. Fire Ice. Putnam Pub. Group. 2002.