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Onyx reviews: Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler

Before Kate and Leo perched on its prow, Dirk Pitt® was famous for having raised the Titanic in Cussler's breakout third novel. In this, his 15th adventure, Pitt is very much the same cross of James Bond and Indiana Jones that he has always been. In recent books, he has sported a trademark symbol after his name on the cover, a device that, thankfully, does not follow him through the novel.

Atlantis Found breaks little new ground as far as Pitt's character or Cussler's writing skills are concerned. Cussler is a journeyman writer, capable of putting one word down after the next to form sentences and paragraphs, but he will never win any awards for his prose. The sentences are often awkward, self-conscious, even painful. His characters are the epitome of stereotypes, described using virtually the same words book after book. They are what they do. Al Giordino, Pitt's loyal sidekick, can sleep in the most uncomfortable positions and steals cigars from their boss. That's who Al is. Other characters are treated with similar dispatch, actors filling their preassigned shallow roles. Even Cussler himself appears as "the grizzled old man with the strange name" at least once in each novel.

In spite of these flaws, Cussler's novels routinely find their way to the top of the best-seller list. His strengths are plot and high adventure. He pits his hero against insurmountable odds, the bigger and more improbable the better. His schemes have gotten more grandiose with each book. No longer is it enough simply to raise the Titanic or rescue the President of the United States. In Atlantis Found, Pitt and his minions must do nothing less than save the entire human race from the machinations of an enigmatic cabal.

The story crosses the planet, starting in a mysterious underground chamber discovered in a Colorado mine. The walls are covered with an unknown writing describing a race that ruled the planet thousands of years ago, only to have been driven to extinction by a cataclysmic cosmic event. As Pitt & Co. follow the clues, they realize that this ancient people was the inspiration for the legend of Atlantis, the lost continent that reportedly sank into oblivion, taking an advanced civilization with it.

Cussler is not shy about throwing everything into the mix. The evil force in the novel is Destiny Enterprises, a South American corporation run by a genetically engineered family with ties back to Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler. They have aspirations of creating the Fourth Reich and a fiendishly devious plan to establish a new world order with their master race. Pitt survives multiple attempts on his life, including an assault from a long-missing U-boat at the edges of Antarctica, as he works feverishly to head off the planet's date with doom. The story culminates in a hair-raising -- if improbably staged -- climax beneath the ice of the Antarctic continent.

Here is a book for readers who want to be swept away on a grand adventure. Readers who can overlook awkward prose and preachy characters who advance the plot by recounting what they know on a subject in order to get that information on the page. The writing adage "show, don't tell" is not in Cussler's repertoire.

Pitt is as indestructible and as ageless as James Bond. Not quite as dashing or debonair, but Cussler tries hard at that, too. Both Pitt and Giordino have highly contrived character developments rushed upon them in the closing pages, and it remains to be seen how Mr. Pitt will manage this new twist in future adventures.

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