Book Reviews

Book Review: Sahara by Clive Cussler – Comic Book Meets “B” Movie Disguised as a Novel


Sahara follows the adventures of Dirk Pitt, who’s character is central to a series of novels by Cussler. Pitt is allegedly a scientist for NUMA, although at times he comes off as a cross between Indiana Jones and James Bond. He and his pal, Al Giordino work under (former) Admiral Sandecker along with Rudi Gunn.

This time Pitt and his NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency) associates are hot on the trail of a mysterious red tide blooming in the Atlantic Ocean off of Africa. They trace the trail up a dangerous river, attempting to find the source of the algae bloom.

Meanwhile, Pitt had earlier saved the life of WHO physician Eva Rojas in an apparently unrelated assassination attempt. The two part ways, planning to meet again later on, but of course their paths will cross again in the novel, along with a missing famed female aviator from the 1920’s and a Civil War era ironclad with a mysterious passenger.

Sahara frustrated me in many ways. I liked the action-adventure theme and Cussler does seem to have a knack for writing it, if this is indicative of his work (I hadn’t read any of his work before). The action scenes are detailed well and pull along other parts of the book that drag. Even though they seemed more comic-book-like than real, I enjoyed reading about the adventures of most of the characters. It had a great feeling of fun.

There’s not a tremendous amount of depth to the characters in Sahara. I don’t know if Cussler has built them up more in other (earlier?) novels, but here they aren’t given much background information except what’s necessary to the story. We know Pitt is a swashbuckling adventurer and when teamed with Giordino the two are as crafty as any two men can be. However, beyond that the only time background information is brought up is in huge amounts of information when it’s necessary to the story. At times it felt like back-story-overload where the back-story took up more pages than the action or plot point which took place. After that, the novel would quickly jump to another point in the story. I don’t have a problem with stories jumping around, but to invest so much time in giving the reader a back-story for such a short scene seemed a waste.

However, I got frustrated pretty quickly by some of the scenarios. It seems as if Cussler writes just about everyone as being weak in character with the exception of the heroes. From the head of the U.N. who gives away international secrets as pillow talk to the President who seemingly can’t think without his svengali (okay, maybe not that far-fetched) everyone else seems to come up short in the character department with the exception of the four heroes at the center of Sahara.

The villains had a lot more potential, but the ease with which the situation is resolved really takes away from the menacing of the villains. The “General” who controls his country with an iron fist is probably the most well-done, but allowing him to operate unchecked with a figurehead President begs the question “why”? Why not have had him just take over the country in a coup and rule with the same iron fist?

I also really didn’t like the Civil War ironclad story and didn’t understand the purpose of it. It’s resolved at the end and plays no real importance in the red tide story, so why bring it up at all as well as re-write history?

All of this comes together in a very uneven novel. There were a lot of parts I liked but there were plenty that I didn’t like as well. At times the story was great, other times it seemed to drag along or suffer from ridiculously implausible plot points and character descriptions. I don’t have a problem suspending my disbelief for stories, but there comes a point where it gets ridiculous and that line was being treaded more than once by Cussler. He even inserts himself in the story at one point and I found myself going “Why? Why? Why?”

It all comes in quite long and I put down Sahara several times before finishing it. In the end I was glad I did, but it didn’t hook me on Cussler’s novels, something I’ve heard other people express. I don’t know if I’ll read another of his “Dirk Pitt adventures” or not. It might be interesting to see if it gets any better.

I don’t know if I could tell someone to read it or not – but I would say to read the book over the movie. As much as I love Matthew McConaughey the movie was really not a good interpretation of the book, missing out on many of the good parts of the book and elevating Pitt to a rock-star like status instead of the subtle hero he is in the novel.

To buy this book or Kindle, click on the picture below to be directed to my Amazon Associates account. I receive a small commission if you purchase through this link.

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