Clive Cussler, bestselling adventure novelist and a real-life maritime explorer whose life at times mirrored the seafaring escapades of his books, died February 24 at his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 88.
A wildly popular adventure and thriller writer for more than four decades, Cussler wrote or coauthored more than 80 books, including five perennial bestselling series, as well as five nonfiction titles and several children’s books. He began writing in the 1960s after leaving the Air Force and working as a copywriter at advertising agencies. His best known character, Dirk Pitt, a marine engineer, government agent and sea adventurer, first appeared in the Mediterranean Caper in 1973; and was followed by Iceberg (1975), and Raise the Titanic! (1976),which was also adapted into a film in 1980 to less than stellar reviews.
These early novels outlined his method for writing popular maritime thrillers: an opening chapter set in a past historical period that is eventually linked to a present-day deep sea quest, enabled by technology and complicated by melodramatic villains and beautiful women. Nevertheless, his sometimes formulaic novels reflected a genuine passion for sea exploration. In 1996 he published the Sea Hunters, a nonfiction account of his work searching for famous sunken shipwrecks, a book for which he was awarded a doctor of letters degree from the SUNY Maritime College.
In fact, Cussler was able to turn his life into fiction and eventually the reverse, turning aspects of his books into reality. Cussler’s most famous character, Pitt, is the director of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, an organization that not only appears in Cussler's novel but really exists, and in fact was founded by Cussler himself, who was its chairman. He was a real-life undersea explorer and under his direction, NUMA has been credited with discovering more than 60 shipwrecks, including historic finds of Civil War ironclads and an early submarine.
Cussler published more than 17 novels starring Pitt and his books have been translated into more than 40 languages. Since his books were so popular, Cussler told PW in an interview that by the early 2000s he began to work with coauthors in order to speed production. He employed a team of five coauthors, including his son Dirk (yes, the namesake of his hero). He told PW that his coauthors write the first 50 or 100 pages, “and send it to me, and I make changes and send it back. And so it goes,” he said. “I want it to be easy to read. I’m not writing exotic literature. I like snappy dialogue and short descriptions and lots of action.”
Despite his passing, there are more Cussler novels slated for posthumous publication. Journey of the Pharaohs will be published March 10, 2020 by Penguin Random House and other Cussler novels are forthcoming.