Grave Descend by Michael Crichton (Writing as John Lange)
I’m a massive Michael Crichton fan, always have been, always will be. When he died in 2008, it was a gut punch, and up until recently, I thought I’d read everything his extensive body of works had to offer (terrible forthcoming posthumous works withstanding). Imagine my surprise when I found he had written pulp novels under a pseudonym! First, I cracked open Easy Go (4/5 stars), a fun read about Egypt, but really, I had set my eyes on Grave Descend. With a back-cover blurb describing hammerhead sharks and a diver on the cover, I was ready for a deep-sea adventure. Sadly, I was sorely mistaken.
Six pages of Grave Descend take place beneath the surface, and while there is a confrontation with a hammerhead, it’s basically a footnote. The bulk of the story instead focuses on a lackluster criminal plot and a slew of unexpected gunfights. While the opening to the story is full of delightful tropes about a gruff diver that just wants to get paid, Crichton spent most of the story building up a mystery that just wasn’t that mysterious. Maybe it’s because I’m coming hot off reading the Master of Mystery, Agatha Christie, but the plot felt dull.
Crichton’s main character is forgettable and really doesn’t have much motivation beyond getting himself out of a tough situation. After taking a sketchy job, McGregor, the aforementioned gruff diver, finds out that not everything is as it seems, and his employers are trying to kill him. It’s a worn out plot that fits well in the pulp genre, but the execution was lacking. Couple that with a cast of stereotypical Jamaican island characters and a rich billionaire’s crew, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. There’s plenty of action, and even a crocodile chase (it’s not a damned shark), but all of it serves a mediocre narrative that ends up bringing the book to an unsatisfying ending.
Clearly, Crichton got better with time as we all do, but for those looking for lost gems in his back catalogue, you can skip this one. For a much better diving book, check out Crichton’s later work, Sphere. Maybe it helps to look at Grave Descend as a steppingstone to that later hit, but I still feel disappointed. Ah well, on to the screenplay that served as the basis for Westworld, I suppose.
Looking for some better pulpy adventure? I am writing a book series about a drunken monster-hunter traipsing through the Himalayas in search of a yeti. The sequel is coming out very soon, so it’s time to catch up! Here’s what some people think:
Kirkus – An often engaging, if sometimes-clichéd, tale with an acerbic lead.
John C. – An excellent drunken romp up and down “Not Everest”, complete with hunters and monsters galore.
Nathan – As the debut novel from a new author, Whiteout was a solid introduction. Readers will find that this will be the first in a series that (hopefully) runs several installments.
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