Scribner: New York
Former CNN journalist and co-anchor Kitty Pilgrim has written an often-charming, sometimes puzzling adventure yarn that takes its protagonists from the high society enclaves of Monaco to the frozen wastes of arctic Norway, with numerous stops in between.
Briefly stated, the novel follows the adventures of the incredibly handsome and super-wealthy archaeologist John Sinclair and the lovely young oceanographer (and orphan) Cordelia Stapleton on a treasure hunt across much of Europe. As the story opens, Cordelia has been convinced to take a break from her deep-sea research off the coast of California and journey to Monaco to receive a posthumous award for her great-great grandfather Elliott Stapleton, a renowned Victorian Era polar explorer, from the prestigious Herodotus Foundation. John Sinclair, chairman of the Herodotus foundation, takes a break from his excavations at Ephesus, Turkey, to make the award, and when the two meet at the gala ward—well, let’s just say there is magic in the air.
But there is also danger in the air, for Cordelia has also been informed that her only living relative (who refused to have anything to do with her after she was orphaned at the age of twelve) has died, leaving the entire Stapleton estate to her—an estate that includes properties in England and land in far north Norway, which had been mined by her great-great grandfather’s coal mining company. But to verify the legitimacy of this latter bequest, she must produce the deed to the Norwegian land—a deed which has been missing for most of the 20th Century. A long-forgotten journal penned by Elliott Stapleton has been discovered in the archives of the Oceanographic Institute and is presented to Cordelia by John Sinclair; perhaps it holds a key to the location of the missing deed. It soon becomes apparent, however, that sinister forces are at work, trying desperately to discover the location of the deed before Cordelia is able to establish her rights. Cordelia’s life is in constant danger almost from the moment she sets foot in Monaco, and the dashing John Sinclair provides protection for the endangered damsel.
As the plot unfolds it is apparent that the Russian mafia is relentlessly seeking the missing deed, but so is the Norwegian government and a clandestine arm of the United States security apparatus. And the reader is constantly reminded that Cordelia has only known her benefactor John Sinclair for a very brief period of time and the threats to her very life commenced only after she had been drawn to him. Toss into this mix two British virologists who attempt to recover human tissue from the bodies of miners buried at the site of Stapleton coal mine who were victims of the 1919 “Spanish” flu pandemic, a doomsday Global Seed Vault also located on the Norwegian land included in the missing deed and a group of crazed Christian fundamentalists who wish to destroy it, and you have the ingredients for a wonderfully rollicking adventure.
I have reviewed any number of novels lately that relate tales of high adventure and treasure hunting in one form or another, but this is the first told by a woman author and I found it a refreshing change of pace from the male take on this genre. There is a greater focus on the romantic aspects of the story—and quite often these depictions are rather sweet and almost old fashioned. The pace seems less hectic than is often the case in adventure novels and there’s a greater emphasis on descriptions of place and location. Most male-oriented adventures rely heavily on graphically violent, blood-splattered action scenes to carry the plotline—Ms. Pilgrim, to her credit, fell into this trap on only two occasions, and frankly, they weren’t all that necessary to the storyline.
There were a few scenes that were somewhat puzzling in that her protagonists—for the most part level-headed and rational creatures—would occasionally behave in uncharacteristic ways. Cordelia would forsake her mature ways and suddenly behave like a petulant adolescent or Sinclair would, after repeatedly noting the need for Cordelia to be under constant surveillance because of the dangers that she was facing, would almost absent-mindedly lose track of her!
Nonetheless, this is a satisfying first novel and a welcome addition to a genre that is too often relegated to male writers and male readers. Two trowels for Kitty Pilgrim’s The Explorer’s Code.