Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Spartan Gold by Clive Cussler and Grant Blackwood

I’ve seen so many Clive Cussler novels on the shelves, I finally had to pick one up. I decided on Spartan Gold based on the exciting blurb on the back cover and I wasn’t disappointed.

Cussler’s first novel featuring Sam and Remi Fargo is wild ride across Europe in search of Napoleon’s legendary Lost Cellar. According to legend, Napoleon had a special grape that he and his vintners had developed. After his exile on Elba, he ordered the seeds destroyed but kept twelve bottles. On the labels of these bottles, he put cryptic clues to a treasure he had hidden in the mountains where Hannibal made his famous crossing with elephants.

In present day Maryland, the Fargos discover a Nazi mini-submarine up river from the Chesapeake Bay while on a search for artifacts from another era. Inside they find the body the sub’s pilot and a bottle of wine which sets them on the trail of Napoleon’s treasure.

Hot on their heels are the hired henchmen of a Ukrainian mobster Bondaruk, who has convinced himself he is a descendant of Xerxes I. It’s Xerxes’ gold that Napoleon absconded.

The Fargos cris-cross Europe in a ‘money is no object’ race, deciphering clues to obscure historical references and trying to stay ahead of Bondaruk’s men. At one point they even crash a party of his to retrieve a bottle of wine his men snatched from under their noses.

The historical aspects of the novel are fascinating. I probably know more about Napoleon than I learned in school. Wait a minute. I didn’t learn about Napoleon in school. Apparently, my independent school system didn’t deem him to be important to my learning curriculum.

As entertaining as the book is, there are times it pushes the limits of believability. The Fargos are obscenely wealthy, expert marksmen, expert airline pilots, expert boatmen and between them it appears they know at least two dozen languages. Despite being perfect at everything, the party crashing scene does lend a sort of comic relief to the story.

The clues the Fargos follow are complex and ingenious. The logic they use to decipher the clues sometimes borders on fuzzy, but it shows that you can find just about anything and everything on the Internet.

As the first novel I’ve read by Cussler, Spartan Gold, I certainly would read another one. His stories read like Dan Brown’s, with emphases on cryptology and secret codes, but much better written.

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