Cave Diver, Jake Avila
CAVE DIVER is an action-packed, seat of the pants styled thriller, with huge villains, big threats and a single flawed protagonist trying to save the day. It recently won a Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize, along with an Adventure Writers Competition Clive Cussler Grandmaster Award and is one of those books that readers of thrillers are going to love, or hate, depending mostly on whether the high-octane pace, and action packed pages do enough to distract you from some things that kind of feel a bit flat for this reader - a fan of big, wild ride thrillers normally.
The protagonist in this novel is Rob Nash, an acclaimed explorer and bit of a daredevil, he's grieving the death of his wife, blaming himself for the accident that killed her. The novel starts out with him in a self-inflicted slow death spiral of his own, "rescued" by the offer to lead a cave diving expedition in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Of course the assignment goes pear-shaped pretty quickly, and you soon discover the story of treasure-laden Japanese submarine buried deep in the cavern, competing teams trying to get into that cave, evil billionaires (of course), although with the twist of a particularly vicious daughter thereof; rabid muscle men; witchcraft; dangerous natural threats; explosions and bits of bodies seemingly showing up / flying everywhere; witchcraft and in case that wasn't enough to be going on with, Nazi's.
So lot's happening in CAVE DIVER as you'd expect from one of these high-octane thrillers, with a really strong sense of danger from all sides, and some nasty types lurking around most corners. It's also very serious in it's approach, which sort of didn't work for this reader - there's so much happening, and so many tickbox elements, I really would have liked the occasional wink to camera, or a bit of humour to break up the relentless, maybe making it all seem just slightly more real.
The biggest disappointment however was the female characters that didn't work. Mia should have been such a pivotal part of the book but she just didn't ever seem real or believable, and then there's Sura, daughter of General Wijaya Suyanto, he of the immense wealth and corruption. She of the constant sex, (I will admit the line at the start of Chapter 2 - "Leaving her lover sprawled in bed like a fallen colossus..." was the closest to laughing I got in the book), and the complicated daughter / father relationship never really convinced. Then there's her relationship with her lover, Jaap (as described: "The gigantic Afrikaner could have been carved from a block of white marble. A chiselled study in muscle, everything about him was over-sized, except his intellect"). He never quite reached the levels of nuance that you could expect even from a James Bond henchman.
But none of that's probably the point, this is all about big action, high-octane, athletic sex, with a sense of over the top peril, set in tropical and steamy, wet climes. All in all CAVE DIVER is most probably exactly the sort of book you'd expect to win a Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize. Despite it being many years since I read a Wilbur Smith novel, there's something here that's more than reminiscent and I can see it appealing to fans of exactly that style of adventure thriller writing.
Acclaimed explorer Rob Nash has lost his way. Grieving the loss of his wife, and blaming himself for her death, he sees no reason to carry on. But when his 'Uncle' Frank Douglas offers him the chance to lead a cave diving expedition in the jungles of Papua, Nash can see some light at the end of the tunnel.
But the expedition might not be what it seems. With a decades old Japanese submarine buried deep in a cavern, and a team hell-bent on unleashing the treasures it hides, Nash finds himself on a ship heading for danger. With a lethal band of criminals on board, who will stop at nothing to get the gold, Nash is fighting for his life. Whilst battling his own demons, can he forgive himself for the wrongs of his past - and survive the perils of the deep?