Cussler’s thrillers are one of my favorite reads when I’m overtired and my brain won’t shut down. High-stakes action keeps my neurons firing, exotic locations provide escape, and—best of all—no matter what crises his heroes face, it’s nothing I have to do anything about. Many of his characters have expertise in science or historical research, so my brain can feel that it’s stretching even as it relaxes into Cussler’s storytelling.
Cussler’s fast-paced plots and admirable, expert, quirky characters are absorbing. However, he’s not a literary stylist. Occasionally I’m jolted out of my happy suspension of disbelief by an awkward phrasing that makes me think, “This sentence needs an editor.”
As I know all too well from my own editing experience, editors are fallible. The editor of Trojan Odyssey (2003) might have gotten caught up in the story and missed some sentence-level issues. Perhaps the schedule forced the editor to rush or the budget wasn’t generous enough to cover careful line-editing.
Whatever the reason, Cussler’s books offer lots of opportunities for editors to correct or sharpen sentences.
Here’s one from Chapter 6 of Trojan Odyssey: “Six four-foot barracudas materialized out of the gloom, their lower jaws protruding beyond their noses and displaying rows of needle-sharp teeth. They ignored the divers and glided past without the slightest sign of interest.”
That last sentence is redundant. How about “Ignoring the divers, they glided by” or “They showed no sign of interest in the divers as they glided by.”
English teachers looking for examples of dangling modifiers will find plentiful examples in Cussler’s prose. In his retelling of The Odyssey at the beginning, Cussler describes how Odysseus and his men flee the monster Scylla: “Escaping out to sea, thunderbolts began shattering the sky.” But it’s not the thunderbolts that are escaping; it’s Odysseus and the remnants of his crew.
Are redundancies and dangling modifiers hurting Cussler’s sales? His numbers don’t appear to be suffering. However, smoothing the infelicities from his prose would make it easier to stay caught up in Cussler’s great escapes.