Adventure novels are sturdy creatures that find themselves lounging on bookshelves, being read at the beach, and pretty much enjoying strong sales at the book stores. They are generously docile until the reader starts rifling their pages. At that point they have a tendency to hook their claws into you and you are pretty much stuck with them until the last exciting page.
Greig Beck is an Australian writer who knows the adventure thriller quite intimately. He seems to revel in them. This new creature of his, Fathomless, has all the markings of a thoroughbred. Borrowing from Michael Crichton, Clive Cussler and, in this particular book, the Jaws man himself, Peter Benchley, Beck still manages to write a thoroughly entertaining book with his own style.
In Fathomless, we start in the 50s when explorer Jim Granger finds a new route through a cave in the Arctic that leads to an undiscovered underground body of water known to the residents as “Bad Water”. He quickly meets his demise but decades later his granddaughter Kate Granger comes across the same clues and, with the help of a Russian billionaire, puts together an expedition to explore the underground sea. What fuels the expedition is that the creature that killed her grandfather may be an animal that has been extinct for millions of years. They are also about to find how it was a good thing it was thought to be extinct.
The monster of the novel is a Carcharodon Megalodon, a very large form of shark and the most dangerous predator to ever grace our planet, at least according to the writer, and excluding man. The thrills in the book are continuous but seem to divide into two parts. The first part is the discovery and exploration of the warm-water sea. This reads much like a Crichton novel as we are introduced to undersea exploration technology and eventually to several creatures that managed to survive millions of years in the isolated waters. The author has a good feeling for the techno-thriller and even a better touch for describing the strange world our explorers find them in. There is, of course, intrigue and sabotage, which makes the adventure even tenser. In the second half, it turns into a hunt for the predator. The Jaws-like twist in the plot is also exciting and gives a whole new urgency to the old adage, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”.
It’s an exciting romp with aspects of thriller, science fiction, horror and, of course, adventure, all forming an entertaining style of beach read or, since summer is over, a fire-side read. The protagonists of the novel all do their job yet none of them really stand out as flesh and blood characters outside the confines of the page. There was only one sour note for me, it entails a Greenpeace-style ship and crew that interrupts the hunt. It is pure stereotype and a little bit nasty considering the escapism of the story, but it doesn’t dim the excitement all that much.
Overall, Fathomless is an engaging and intelligent novel that promises thrills and adventure, and delivers on both. While Greig Beck is a new writer to me, I can see that he is likely to have an enthusiastic group of readers that follow him on this adventure, and will be delighted to shudder at the formidable creatures in this book.
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