The Silent Sea
I recently read The Silent Sea by Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul and learned something valuable about writing from it. I’m not shy about spoilers so read on at your own risk.
The Silent Sea was a thoroughly entertaining adventure novel that follows the exploits of Juan Cabrillo and his mercenary crew. It had everything you’d expect of an adventure novel (everything I’d expect anyway) and was very well done overall. With that said, the storytelling had a key weakness. The plot depended upon a coincidence in the second act.
In the first act, Juan leads his team on a covert mission in northern Argentina, during which they happen upon the wreckage of an old airship flown by treasure-hunting brothers from Washington. Act two begins with Juan’s trip to Washington to inform the treasure hunters’ surviving brother of the fate of their expedition. At the end of this interview Juan is just leaving when another guest arrives—the Argentine major who led Juan’s opposition in the first act. The adventure proceeds from there as leads are followed, derring do is done, and the villain’s plans crumble around him.
This coincidental meeting between Juan and the Argentine major in Washington was the weakest point of the novel. The rest of the novel pulled me through quite efficiently, but this scene threw me out of the narrative. It took some time to get past the fact if the Argentines major and his squad of goons had an extra hour’s layover in Mexico City, the hero would never even have gotten involved in their plot.
Thinking back on other examples of the action genre that I’ve read or seen; I realize that this sort of coincidental connection is a staple. This strikes me as a problem: the meeting in Washington was the one event in The Silent Sea that kicked me out of a narrative that otherwise kept me turning the pages.
Thanks to Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul for teaching me this lesson.