Review: “Black Wind” By Clive Cussler & Dirk Cussler (Novel)

Well, since I still seem to be going through a bit of a Clive Cussler phase, I thought that I’d check out the last book in the small pile that my uncle lent me. This is a novel from 2004 (co-written with Cussler’s son Dirk) called “Black Wind”.

Although the edition that I read was a mammoth 677 pages in length, the typeface was (like in many modern books) slightly on the larger side of things. Or, to put it another way, whilst it certainly isn’t a short novel, it didn’t feel as long as Cussler’s “Sahara” – even though both books took approximately the same amount of time for me to read.

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

This is the 2005 Penguin (UK) paperback reprint of “Black Tide” that I read.

The novel begins in 1944. With Imperial Japan on the verge of defeat, a Japanese submarine loaded with several mysterious experimental weapons is deployed to strike America. As the sub makes it’s way towards America, the scientist on board refuses to explain the nature of the weapons to the crew.

But, after the sub sinks a fishing boat near the American coast, a radio message is sent to a US Navy ship – who quickly apprehend the Japanese sub before it can launch any of it’s onboard aircraft. However, not being able to hit it with their weapons, the US ship rams the submarine, causing it to sink into the briny deep with the experimental weapons still intact…..

Then we flash forward to 2007. In the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, a team of scientists are working at a research station when they are suddenly poisoned by a mysterious airborne chemical.

Luckily for most of the scientists, a National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) vessel nearby happens to pick up their distress call and rescue the survivors. One of the crew is none other than Dirk Pitt, son of the famed NUMA agent Dirk Pitt. Needless to say, Dirk decides to investigate the mysterious poisoning…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s the sort of book that grows on you. At first, I didn’t really like this book. The story initially seemed to lack the dramatic and emotional weight that other Cussler novels I’ve read have had. Everything initially seemed a little too textbook and, well, generic. However, as the story progressed, I found myself enjoying it more.

In terms of the basic story and pacing, it’s reasonably good. There’s a reasonable mixture of political drama, suspenseful scenes, scientific drama and thrilling action. Although the story’s pacing stutters occasionally due to a few slower-paced segments, the story runs fairly smoothly most of the time.

The basic premise of the story is a reasonably clever one and it serves to set up many moments of thrilling drama and action (including some fairly unusual settings and vehicles in later parts of the story too). However, the story is let down somewhat by the characters.

Although the decision to replace Dirk Pitt with his son makes a lot of sense (after all, the original Dirk Pitt is probably in his fifties or sixties by the time this story takes place), it can be a little confusing if you’ve read some of Clive Cussler’s older novels. Pitt the younger isn’t that different from his father (they look identical and have the same name). So, when Pitt the elder shows up about 137 pages into the book, it is a little bit confusing at first.

Although the two Dirk Pitts are well-differentiated later in the story, they’re both just initially referred to as “Dirk Pitt” – with only a few descriptions and the presence of Al Giordino telling the reader that they’re looking at Pitt the elder when he first appears.

Another new character is Summer Pitt, Pitt the younger’s sister. However, for the most part, she’s just another Dirk Pitt-like character and she doesn’t really seem that distinctive or unique. Seriously, as characters go, this novel isn’t that spectacular. Even the novel’s main villain really doesn’t seem to have that much character, depth, personality or uniqueness when compared to the villains in Clive Cussler’s “Sahara” or “Flood Tide“.

There are so many supporting characters and main characters in “Black Wind” that it often feels like each one doesn’t really get quite enough characterisation. And, whilst the thrilling plot covers up a lot of these flaws and keeps the story running smoothly, the slightly shallower characterisation robs the story of some of it’s dramatic weight. Seriously, the story would have been better if it had focused on a smaller number of characters and given them a little bit more… well… character. It would give the story more “personality” and increase the audience’s emotional investment.

Still, as the story progresses, we find ourselves on more familiar ground again. Especially in the later parts of the novel, there is a lot of the type of high-stakes nautical drama and military action that will be familiar to any Clive Cussler fan. Likewise, even during the earlier parts of the story – there are some rather thrilling moments, such as a dramatic car chase involving a ferry.

The narration in this novel is reasonably good. However, although Dirk Cussler’s style is a little bit noticeable (from brief descriptions, subtle differences in the overall narrative tone etc…), the general narrative style is reasonably similar to an “ordinary” Clive Cussler novel. Which is both a good and a bad thing. Although this gives the novel a reassuring sense of familiarity, it also misses out on some of the advantages of having a more distinctive and different co-writer.

For example, the novel “Zero Hour” that Clive Cussler co-wrote with Graham Brown has a faster-paced, punchier and snappier narrative style that comes from the input of an experienced, and different, co-writer. But, in “Black Wind”, the similarity between Dirk & Clive Cussler’s writing styles means that this vital advantage is lost somewhat.

All in all, this novel is a little bit like “Clive Cussler lite”. There’s still lots of thrills, action, witty dialogue and drama – but, thanks to the introduction of several new characters, the similarity between the two writers’ styles and the slightly lower level of characterisiation, this novel doesn’t really pack quite the same punch as some of Cussler’s older novels and some of his other co-written books do. Still, it’s a reasonably decent thriller novel that is very readable and reasonably compelling.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.

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