The Navigator (Numa Files) by Clive Cussler

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The Navigator (Numa Files) by Clive Cussler

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A readable and fast paced adventure story, drawing on historical elements to keep things interesting. The character development was a little uneven, which was a shame, but not a distraction.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 560 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN: 978-0141028200

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I wouldn't exactly call myself a fan of Clive Cussler, but I've always enjoyed what little I've read in the past. I'm not usually too much of a fan of marine stories, which is why he's never been a first choice of mine, although he does write exciting stories. The Navigator is no exception.

Years before the birth of Christ, the Phoenicians hid something very valuable in a far away land. Thousands of years later, Thomas Jefferson, just nearing the end of his term as President of the United States, possibly discovers its whereabouts. However, there are people keen to prevent him from doing so and much of his paperwork is stolen and his friend Lewis murdered to ensure that the secret remains so.

Hundreds of years later, following the invasion or Iraq, Carmen Machadi is able to salvage a number of articles looted from the Baghdad Museum. One of these is an unremarkable bronze statue called the Navigator, which is thought to be Phoenician in origin. Mechadi isn't too concerned about the statue, but someone clearly is, as the ship carrying it and her back to America is attacked. Kurt Austin saves both her and the statue, although the thieves try again and succeed. Austin and Machadi want to find out who was so keen to obtain it and why.

It sounds like quite a simple story, but Cussler mixes historical and fictional characters with fact and supposition to create a decent mystery. It's not a mystery where you can follow the clues and try and solve it before the characters, you just have to hold on tight and enjoy the ride. In this way, it reminds me a little of Matthew Reilly's Seven Ancient Wonders, although Cussler is a far better writer than Reilly.

Cussler's pacing of the story really helps things along. He starts almost gently with the historical background, building up slowly before the book almost explodes into the present day. Once the story has got moving, it stays that way throughout. The action moves smoothly from one continent to another and jumps between characters often enough that you can always keep up with what's going on with someone at any given point.

If there is a downside, it is with the characters themselves. Kurt Austin is a recurring Cussler character, so he doesn't spend time describing him in any great detail. This means he comes across as rather faceless and although you can tell he's on the side of right and his joking with another recurring character Joe Zavala makes him seem a little more human, it's tough to really get a feel for him. There are other characters who are clearly known to Austin, but having not read a Kurt Austin book for a while, I did feel as if I was missing out on something by not knowing who they were.

When Cussler does build a new character, though, he does it very well. Viktor Baltazar is the man wanting to obtain the Nevigator and he is very well drawn. His motivations are clear and he is given a personality akin to that of a Bond villain; charming when he wants to be, yet despicable. Unfortunately, because he was the most complete character here, it was easier to get involved in his aims, as they felt the most real.

This is only a minor distraction, though. Whilst it's difficult to get involved with the people themselves, as they don't exactly welcome you in, it's easy to get caught up in the story. It was a great idea, which worked very well and there were a couple of surprises, including a delightful little twist late on that kept things going a little longer just when I thought they were about to end.

Cussler usually writes with flair and style and a breathless pace and The Navigator is no different. This was an enjoyable, if not terribly taxing read and if you're a fan of adventure style thrillers, you can't usually go wrong with Cussler generally. The scope of the story and the number of characters he plucks from various places would probably make this a good introduction to his work if you don't mind feeling a little out of the loop at a couple of points.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

For tales of seafaring life in the past rather than the present, try Tim Severin's Corsair.

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David Hildebrandt said:

I've read most of Cussler's books. I was quite disappointed in The Navigator. I've found over my reading that for the most part, the books authored by Cussler alone, are better than those co-authored. For instance, I just finished The Chase, and it was quite good.

There are several things wrong with this book - and I'm curious about his research. He mentions the Golden Calf as being a couple of gold tables of religious writing (453). The Golden Calf was an idol made by the High Priest Aaron, Moses' older brother, shortly after the Exodus from Egypt. It was destroyed by Moses. Also, the language Aramaic was mentioned (same pages) as being from the time of Solomon. Cussler is wrong by several hundred years. The language of Aramaic is a hybrid language derived from Hebrew and the languages of the people groups transported into the land of Israel by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar, between 606-586BC. These languages mixed and formed the basis of Aramaic which evolved from that point on. Since the kingdom was divided into North and South in 931BC, Solomon lived prior to that time. The division happened in the time of his son.

I get a tad upset when an author uses biblical people and events and then distorts them grossly to make a story. If Cussler, et al, is going to use biblical people and events, he (they) should at least try to be a bit more historical.

David Hildebrandt, MA, MDiv (Theology) Lecturer - Bible and Theology Nassa Theological College Tanzania, East Africa

Sue said:

Thanks for that information, David - it throws a new light on the book.