06 November 2013

Review: Grave Descend

Grave Descend
Grave Descend by John Lange

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was a freak of nature of sorts growing up. I learned how to read before I was three years old, and I was reading books for "adults" by the time I hit third or fourth grade. While the first true "adult" book I read was The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks, the first mainstream adult fiction I read was actually Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park. Right around when the movie came out, I became a full-on Crichton addict, tearing through pretty much everything he had under his name (yes, that included fourth grade me reading Disclosure and learning much more about sexual harassment than I needed to). I'm not sure if I ended up liking The Andromeda Strain or Sphere more when it was all said and done, but there was a fair amount of time where I would have considered Crichton my favorite author.

Crichton passed away a few years ago, and Titan Books is re-releasing a number of his pulpy adventure novels he wrote under the pen name John Lange as part of their Hard Case Crime imprint. Grave Descend takes us on an expedition to the sea with a man who is an explorer of sunken ships. He has been hired on to explore the wreckage of the yacht Grave Descend, but there are a lot of conflicting stories surrounding the wreck. To make matters worse, the competing interests seem pretty angry, and there may be some cargo on the ship that is causing a lot of the grief.

The story is extremely simple, which is kind of the point. It's a pulpy, fast-paced thriller of a book that wastes little time with exposition or unique dialogue, instead going straight for the point. This might not sound entirely enjoyable, but in terms of it being a novel from a certain era looking at a certain type of motif, it works really well. It actually reminded me a bit of the beach-type stuff in the Daniel Craig Casino Royale, if that makes any sense - just a rollicking, punchy good time.

Having read a number of the Hard Case Crime books from Titan at this point, this isn't better than the Stephen King Joyland publication from earlier this year, but is miles ahead of the Harlan Ellison piece. Crichton, even with his faults, was a talented writer, and it's a nice historical piece here to get an idea of what his writing was like outside of the scientific/biological thrillers he's known for. If you're picking these up for the writing, you're doing it for the wrong reason, as they're not really great stories. They are, however, fun, short diversions with the added benefit of the writer being a well-known legend in the community.

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