Review: “Flood Tide” By Clive Cussler (Novel)

Well, for the next review in my series of Clive Cussler reviews, I thought that I’d look at a novel from 1997 called “Flood Tide”, which was another Cussler novel from the small pile that my uncle lent me.

Although I had mixed views about reading an older edition with smaller print than a modern novel (that is 511 pages long), my recent experience with finishing “Sahara” made me decide to give “Flood Tide” a try. And, to my surprise, I ended up binge-reading it within about 2-3 days.

So, let’s take a look at “Flood Tide”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS

This is the 2002 Pocket Books (UK) paperback edition of “Flood Tide” that I read.

“Flood Tide” begins in 1948. In an unknown location, the ship Princess Dou Wan is transporting a mysterious cargo owned by a Nationalist general fleeing the civil war in China. Although the journey begins well, the ship quickly runs into foul weather. Given the age and condition of the vessel, she begins to break apart and sink, with very few survivors….

Then we flash forward to the year 2000, where a woman called Ling T’ai is a passenger on a trafficking vessel headed for the US. After cruel treatment by the criminals running the vessel, she survives and we learn that she is actually Julia Lee, an undercover American INS agent. However, as the vessel draws closer to the US, Julia realises that she is still in danger…

Meanwhile, Dirk Pitt is taking a holiday near Orion Lake in Washington in order to recuperate from a previous adventure. However, after a mysterious break-in at his cabin leads to him discovering several hidden cameras, he turns his attention to the mysterious sealed compound on the opposite side of the lake….

One of the first things that I will say about “Flood Tide” is that it’s the best non co-written Clive Cussler novel I’ve read so far. Not only is it filled with the grippingly suspenseful scenes and thrilling action you would expect, but the pacing is significantly better than in “Sahara” too. In other words, there are rarely any dull moments throughout the story.

The thrilling and suspenseful segments of the story are spaced out perfectly, with Cussler giving the audience just enough time to relax between these thrilling moments. Yes, the characters/narrator occasionally drone on about classic cars and old boats, but these segments are less of a slog to read than the scientific/environmental lectures in “Sahara” (mostly since said old cars/boats often swiftly end up being a central part of the story’s thrilling action scenes).

In addition to this, the story also contains a surprising amount of tonal variety too. For example, the earlier scenes set around Orion Lake initially start out a little bit like something from a lighter moment of an old episode of “Twin Peaks”, before going in a much darker horror-based direction. After this, there’s some gripping suspense that eventually builds to a spectacularly thrilling action-packed crescendo. And this is just the first 120 pages! The story gets even more thrilling after this.

There are so many brilliant set-pieces and segments of the story, including an utterly gripping segment based on a ship called “The Oregon” (which is also the setting for a series of co-written spin-off novels), a brilliantly spectacular car chase in Washington DC, some high-stakes drama on a river etc.. Seriously, the action thriller elements of this novel could put a Hollywood movie to shame.

Likewise, the novel’s sub-plots are reasonably good too. In addition to a reasonably well-written romantic sub-plot, the novel’s main sub-plot is actually connected to the main story. Like with “Sahara”, the sub-plot doesn’t take centre stage until the later parts of the story but, unlike “Sahara”, it is actually directly relevant to the main events of the story and serves to provide a satisfying, and slightly emotional, ending to the story.

Cussler’s writing seems to get better with time and “Flood Tide” is no exception. Not only is the dialogue slightly snappier and wittier than in “Sahara”, but Cussler’s narrative style also achieves a brilliant balance between being descriptive and being fast-paced.

Likewise, the characters in this novel are reasonably good too – whether it is the novel’s greedy and ruthless villain or the supporting cast, the characterisation isn’t ultra-deep but it is certainly good enough. Likewise, Clive Cussler also makes a brief author cameo too – although this is fairly understated.

The harsh cruelty and sadism that characterised Cussler’s “Sahara” and “Iceberg” is somewhat less prominent here, with most of the novel’s combat-based scenes being more focused on thrilling drama, suspense and/or spectacular fast-paced action. This lends the novel more of a rollercoaster-like quality and also gives the novel a bit more of a “blockbuster movie”-like quality too.

However, I should probably include the obligatory warning that I almost always have to include when reviewing older Clive Cussler novels. In other words, a few moments of the story might seem mildly dated and/or “politically incorrect” when read today. Even so, this is much less of an issue in “Flood Tide” than it is in the other older Cussler novels (eg: “Iceberg”, “Sahara” and “Raise The Titanic”) that I’ve read.

But, like with most older Clive Cussler novels, if you can overlook the dated elements of the story, then you’ll be richly rewarded with an utterly gripping and compelling tale. Seriously, despite these flaws, the story is still brilliantly gripping.

All in all, this is the best older Clive Cussler novel I’ve read so far. Not only is the pacing of this novel absolutely brilliant, but it is also crammed with thrilling and suspenseful scenes that will propel you through the book at a fast pace and make it difficult to put it down for too long. Yes, the novel is a little bit dated sometimes. But, despite this, it is still one of the most spectacular older Cussler novels that I’ve read. Like with Cussler’s excellent co-written “Zero Hour“, it is pretty much a spectacular 1990s action movie in book form. Which is never a bad thing!

If I had to give “Flood Tide” a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

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