September 13, 2010


by Andy McDermott
656 pages, Headline

Block your buster by Pat Black

The Hunt for Atlantis is, for want of any better term, a right rollocking read. It's got adventure, ancient artefacts, fist-fights, cartoon shootings, nasty bad guys, revenge plots involving dead parents, wise-cracking goodies, a globe-spanning treasure hunt, babes, submarines, the Amazon jungle, nasty native populations with spears and malnutrition and ancient puzzle-solving. It's beach time for a lot of people – yes, damn the torpedoes, and the recession too - and I'm happy to plug this one as a good holiday read.

Some of it seems familiar. In the treasure-hunting/academic in-way-over-her-head angle, some of it's rather Dan Brown. In the action and adventure scenes, there's a fair bit of Dirk Pitt/Clive Cussler. In the puzzle-solving and moments of action involving impossibly good-looking athletic heroines, there's an element of Tomb Raider. And in the smart-arse hero with a bit of sassy chat for any homicidal occasion, there's a dab of Indy/Han Solo.

If you don't like any of the above - basically, don't bother.

The story: Nina Wilde is a hotshot historian who has a theory over the resting place of Atlantis - a cause which led to her professor parents' deaths a few years before. They were offed by some bloke called Giovanni Qobras, from a shadowy brotherhood sworn to prevent the discovery of the lost kingdom (although she doesn't know this to start with).

Nina is saved from an early assassination attempt by Eddie Chase, a bull-necked, balding, busted-toothed, broken-nosed former British special forces man. It turns out Chase has been employed by a seemingly benevolent billionaire and eccentric, Kristian Frost. He has his own interests in finding the resting place of the legendary sunken island, and enlists Wilde’s expertise in the search. He also sends his super-hot bendy acrobatic kung fu-fighting daughter Kari to help out - and kill bad guys when we get bored of Eddie Chase doing it.

You have to credit Andy McDermott for not making his hero some six-foot-plus chiselled Nietschean man-god, although this is probably the book's only concession to reality. Chase is an all-farting, Carry-On humour style Brit who always finds time for a low-brow gag, even when he's gunning down wave after wave of baddies. This man must have taken at least 12 lives before we've even finished the book's first major set-piece, a goods transfer gone wrong in Iran. As if the broken bodies and blood aren't evidence enough that he's hard, Chase keeps interrupting an associate who's always about to relate tales of his SAS escapades by coughing or blurting out, "classified!"

It's almost too cute, and grows irritating after a while. The guy's been around, and he's handy in a brawl - on a need-to-know basis, we are done, barring the obligatory "guy from his past" who shows up to give Chase another motive to take lives. Not that he needs it.

Crosses are doubled, lives are lost and saved every few pages, guns and other tech are lovingly lingered over and Chase provides a "Huh? Whah?" counterpoint to the moments where we might get bogged down by details of ancient traps and puzzles which Nina must decipher (one numerical poser which almost leads to the principals being skewered inside an Amazonian temple almost completely lost me, I'm afraid).

Nina Wilde is an agreeably bland goody-two-shoes, but has pluck and innocence enough to carry the tale, balancing Eddie Chase's affable, almost blithe killings. The sidekicks are excellent, particularly Chase's Belgian comrade-in-arms Castille, and the baddies and henchmen have just the right amount of pantomime villain quality to them.

Although when, during a big confrontation scene, the main baddie Qobras says to Nina, "We meet at last," I have to confess I was in pain.

It's a rattling tale told with pace and conviction; I could easily see it as a film, just not a particularly good or original one. All the same, you'll be glued to the page. I've already gotten in touch with Amazon about the sequel in time for my holidays. Have fun.

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