(Originally published February 14, 2009)
The only type of thriller more fascinating than a good creature story is a treasure hunt. And when the treasure hunt involving “supernatural” occurrences, terrifying traps, and compulsively evil villains? Even better. Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, the team responsible for “Relic” and “Reliquary” have woven a supremely compelling suspense novel that transcends all the flaws of their previous works. “Riptide” is a gripping, fast-paced story with strong characters, a multilayered search for treasure, and an explosive finale.
The novel follows Malin Hatch, a young doctor whose family has owned the dangerous “Ragged Island” for decades. Local legends say that the great pirate Red Ned Ockham, sensing the end of his life, forced a brilliant English architect to build him the ultimate treasure vault: an underground labyrinth known as the “Water Pit” on the edge of Ragged Island. As a boy, young Hatch watched with horror as his brother was brutally killed by one of the Water Pit’s insidious traps…and now, more than twenty years later, he returns to discover the truth.
Along with a group of daring treasure hunters, Hatch slowly ventures into the bowels of the Water Pit, deciphering ancient codes with modern technology. But it soon becomes clear that the treasure he and his companions are searching for is more than merely gold…and may claim all their lives in the search. “Riptide” wraps up with a dazzlingly epic confrontation in the depths of a sunken vault.
From a worldview standpoint, “Riptide” is an interesting case. Apocalyptic imagery is frequently used for dramatic effect, yet one of the book’s major characters (the town minister) is an unpleasantly slimy character who raves blindly about “sin” and “a lust for gold.” It should be duly noted, however, that he undergoes a remarkable transformation throughout the course of the story. As in most thrillers, issues of faith take a backseat to action and suspense. Hatch references his personal faith early on in the novel, but says that he “prefers not to discuss it.” and we never get any explanation.
“Riptide” does contain some disturbing moments – most noticeably at the beginning of the book. A man’s legs are trapped beneath a fallen beam in a swiftly flooding mine shaft, and Hatch uses an axe to brutally amputate the limbs. Several treasure hunters are also killed by a variety of grisly traps that result in massive bloodshed. Some of these elements were unsettlingly gruesome, even for a thriller fan like myself. On the bright side, though, bad language and innuendo are generally absent.
Overall, “Riptide” is the perfect adventure novel for a slow weekend afternoon or long car trip. It’s fast and fluid, with good characterization and a well-woven plot. Fans of “National Treasure” or any of Clive Cussler’s novels will not be disappointed.
A riveting ride through mysterious, dangerous subterranean grottoes. Highly recommended.