Clive Cussler is dead at 88.

His books weren’t exactly great…

Often compared to the thrillers churned out by Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum and Ian Fleming, the Cussler novels featured formulaic plots, one- or two-word titles (“Cyclops,” “Dragon,” “Inca Gold,” “Poseidon’s Arrow”) and frequently a recurring hero, Dirk Pitt, an undersea explorer who cheats death and saves the world as he foils the diabolical plots of megalomaniac villains, while satisfying his taste for exotic cars and lusty women.

Mr. Cussler was hardly a stylist. Critics called his characters wooden, his dialogue leaden and his prose clichéd (“the cold touch of fear,” “a narrow brush with death”), while praising his descriptions of marine hardware, underwater struggles and salvage operations.

…but I’ll admit, they can be fun (when you’re in the mood for that sort of thing), and I’ve read quite a few of them. And whatever you think of his books, the work he did in the real world is pretty impressive.

He first created the National Underwater and Marine Agency as a fictional government organization that employed his hero in the Dirk Pitt books. Then, in 1979, he founded an actual National Underwater and Marine Agency as a private nonprofit group committed to “preserving maritime heritage through the discovery, archaeological survey and conservation of shipwreck artifacts.” It underwrote his maritime ventures.

With Mr. Cussler leading expeditions and joining dives, the organization eventually located some 60 wrecks. Among them were the Cunard steamship Carpathia, first to reach survivors of the lost Titanic on April 15, 1912, then itself sunk by German torpedoes off Ireland in 1918; Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt’s coastal steamer Lexington, which caught fire and went down in Long Island Sound in 1840; and Manassas, the Confederacy’s first Civil War ironclad, sunk in battle in the Lower Mississippi in 1862.

Maybe I’ll toss Sahara on tonight.

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