In 1035, a group of Norsemen settle in North America, well south of Leif Eriksson's settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows. They explore the interior of the continent, but are wiped out by Skraelings and the settlement disappears. In 1894, the wooden-hulled American warship Kearsarge comes across an enormous submarine long before it should have been possible for one so advanced to be built. The Kearsarge is nearly sunk in the encounter, and the events form only a footnote in the ship's long and distinguished career. In 2003, the most advanced luxury cruise ship ever built suffers a terrible fire on her maiden voyage and sinks to the bottom. Ordinarily, there would be no connection between these three events, but when they happen within the first 100 pages of Clive Cussler's latest novel, Valhalla Rising, there can be no doubt that Dirk Pitt will find the link.
As often happens in Cussler's novels, A NUMA ship with Dirk Pitt aboard just happens to be in the vicinity when the Emerald Dolphin becomes a blazing inferno. NUMA comes to the rescue, and Dirk becomes involved with Kelly Egan, daughter of genius inventor Dr. Elmore Egan. It turns out they were aboard the cruise ship's maiden voyage to witness Dr. Egan's new magnetohydrodynamic propulsion system (caterpillar drive, to fans of The Hunt for Red October) in action for the first time. Dr. Egan is actually pushed overboard by men determined to steal his secrets and dies shortly before the ship sinks, leaving Kelly with the battered briefcase that supposedly contains his life's work.
Dirk is joined by his best friend and sidekick, Al Giordino, and together they race to stop a massive underground oil cartel from turning North America into a corporate state run by the Cerberus Corporation. In doing so, they also follow the trail of Dr. Egan's greatest invention, tying in as diverse threads as Norse colonization and Jules Verne's research for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
If you think this sounds like the same plot of most of Cussler's recent novels, you're right, it is. I realized it myself as I was working on this write-up. It's a credit to his storytelling, however, that Valhalla Rising is still a great read. He's found a winning formula, and will most likely stick with it until he (or Dirk Pitt) dies of old age. That being said, the novel is still well worth reading. If you enjoyed the previous Dirk Pitt novels, you like this one as well. If you've never had the pleasure, then Valhalla Rising, while not Cussler's best book, is still as good a place to start as any.
There are some differences from previous Dirk Pitt adventures. The mysterious briefcase of Dr. Egan, which is periodically found to be filled with oil throughout the story, figures prominently, and proves to be the key to the inventor's final work. The obligatory chase scene that destroys one of Dirk's beloved antique vehicles involves an aerial dogfight through the skyscrapers of New York City. Dirk is more wistful than ever about the might-have-beens with his lost loves, Summer Moran and Maeve Fletcher, and this proves to be foreshadowing to an ending that reminded me strongly of John D. MacDonald's The Lonely Silver Rain.
There was one major disappointment in Valhalla Rising. In most of the Dirk Pitt novels, his final confrontation with his adversary is usually an apocalyptic conflict where Dirk, acts as the agent of divine retribution, the right hand of God destroying evil and exacting often poetic justice. This point in Valhalla Rising was downplayed and anticlimactic, and almost feels like a contrived stepping stone put there to free Dirk up to ferret out the last of Dr. Egan's secrets.
In spite of this, the novel is a lot of fun to read. Because I've been a fan of Cussler's for many years, it was like slipping into my most comfortable boots and taking an exciting walk along one of my favorite paths. And if he didn't end the series after splitting up the Pitt/Giordino team by having Al finally get engaged, you know this won't be the last time we see that dynamic duo either. And yes, as has been the case in all of the recent Dirk Pitt adventures, Clive Cussler himself plays a small cameo role, so keep your eyes open for him.
Valhalla Rising, by Clive Cussler