Review – The Romanov Ransom
Clive Cussler wrote an excellent book once. Unfortunately, The Romanov Ransom is not it. This pseudo-roman à clef tome is tedious, formulaic, and outlandish. The plot is so absurdly improbable that it negates any semblance of believability. It fails to engender empathy.
Briefly: in 1918, the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna (Dagmar of Denmark), the mother of Czar Nicholas II, assembles a cache of jewels to ransom her son, the Empress Alexandra, and their five children from the Bolsheviks’ captivity. Unfortunately, the cache is stolen and disappears. Around midnight on 18 July 1918, the Bolsheviks execute the royal family and their retainers—regicide. The plot focuses on the searchers competing to find the missing cache.
I’ve read six or seven Cussler books, and with minor modifications all have the same basic plot. The brave, indefatigable, and infinitely resourceful protagonist pursues, through locations worldwide, outwits, and defeats the eeevil antagonist—in this tome, it’s resurgent Nazis and an unscrupulous international jewel thief. Supporting the protagonist is the loyal, capable, and archetypal sidekick. In The Romanov Ransom, the sidekick is the protagonist’s wife—a dead shot killing the bad guys a bunch. Buttressing the good guy, back at headquarters (or wherever), are folks with in-depth knowledge of what’s needed or access to electronic or mechanical devices that advance the protagonist’s agenda. (In the Cussler books I’ve read, I’ve not found a lead female protagonist.)
Other factors that degrade the credibility of the narrative are that the good guy has a passport that lets him and his cadre travel wherever they want, unencumbered; he has unlimited fiscal resources; can pass weapons of most any caliber through airport screenings, and has associates who always have just the skill needed at the moment. (“Sam invited Sergei, who happened to be fluent in Polish, to come along with them.”) Also, no matter the dire life-or-death situation in which our good guy and his sidekick and/or associates are enmeshed, a deus ex machina, at the last instant, resolves the danger.
What’s unfortunate is that Cussler posits an intriguing plot that could have been developed into a compelling narrative.