The Mayan Secrets (Fargo 5)
Of all the spin-offs from the exciting Dirk Pitt novels of the 80s and 90s, I have to say the Fargos are my favourite along with Mr Isaac Bell. The changing of co-authorship didn’t help too much around the third novel but they’ve continued in a way that’s (oddly) slightly endearing. The genuinely smarmy, but affectionate husband and wife team of Sam and Remi Fargo along with sidekick Selma (who always makes me think of Scooby-Doo) are an adventuring team who provide archaeological derring-do with a massive moral punch.
Ethical excavation should be their motto.
Not that they have much excavating to do – other than starting to dig their own jungle graves at one point – because a helpful earthquake measuring about 8.3 has diverted them away from shark tagging to aid the unfortunate populace of Tapulcha, Mexico who are cut off from aid and sitting in the now-rumbling shadow of the Tacana volcano. A rescue foray up the place with some medical colleagues – Christina and Maria – reveals a cave not seen for a thousand years containing the mummified remains of a Mayan leader and his precious sealed pot with an ancient Mayan Codex – only the fifth to be ever found. Unfortunately, a well-meaning but hot-headed Jose Sanchez tweets its existence to the world and, in particular, brings it to the attention of a beautifully arrogant femme fatale – Sarah Allersby. This lady is a young socialite, wannabe Discovery channel archaeologist, and fledgling mega-rich murderer. A lady with huge tracts of lands in Guatemala and a blind eye to the vast marijuana plantations that are on them.
Inevitably, she steals the Codex which turns out to be a convenient map of all Mayan religious and secular habitations. Sam and Remi are forced to hunt down a copy in Spain and the race is on to get to these places first. Of course, our heroes are far better at this kind of thing than Miss Allersby, so she has to hire two henchmen – a comedy duo of Ruiz and Russell – to try and stop the Fargos.
Blue face paint and Apache helicopters later it all ends in a tidy denouement in the jungle with professional archaeology satiated, local people pacified, evil drug-lords given a kick in the derriere and political corruption thwarted.
A neat, concise, to-be-expected, Fargo adventure you’d think.
Yet I was dissatisfied with this one. A few times Cussler and Perry put themselves in to a bit of a hole in the plot and are forced to revert to some silly explanations to extricate Sam and Remi. The swimming from the cenote down the underground river is excellent; but the Madrid library is almost insulting to Mayan experts with its “we’ll think for a couple of minutes, and then solve the problem nonchalantly” attitude and then the final scenes with “Viper One” and “Viper Two” are utterly ridiculous.
The other curiosity I am finding in the novels is the desire to “product-place”. Is this intentional? We used to get descriptions of what meals Cussler’s heroes would indulge in, yet now (more and more) we have statements like: “the Brioni suits Sam had bought…Remi bought a Fendi perforated-leather sleeveless dress…, a Dolce & Gabbana floral-print dress, and a short K. Mendel silk crew-neck dress.”
Seriously? How does this help the narrative in any way? If I go Google those items to get a true mind-eye view of Sam and Remi then I might just…oh wait…yes, I might click on their websites and actually buy one…cunning.
Or, perhaps stupidly blatant advertising? Enough, Mr Cussler.
So, a good novel as usual, but it starts well, has a great middle, then descends into ludicrous farce when the authors realise they’ve got to end it quickly to ensure the standard Cussler novel length is met. I hope for better in the next and I won’t be buying Fendi, Brioni, Dolce & Gabbana or J Mendel any time soon.