Between 1966 and 1972, Michael Crichton wrote eleven novels, all of them under pen names, with the exception of The Andromeda Strain (1969). “John Lange” was his favorite pseudonym and that was the one he used when he wrote the Edgar-nominated Grave Descend (1970), a fast-moving tale of sunken yachts, hammerhead sharks, and assorted unsavory characters. The novel has recently been re-released by Hard Case Crime, working in conjunction with Titan Books, a UK publisher.
Crichton apparently saved his real name for his “real” novels, the big, bombastic techno-thrillers with which he became closely associated. The Lange books are decidedly closer to pulp and were, according to Crichton, competing with “in-flight movies”, something you could consume in about 90 minutes and feel temporarily sated. The Edgar nomination notwithstanding, Grave Descend fits that description.
Jim McGregor is a world-weary diver living in Kingston, Jamaica, after many years working stressful jobs in the States. He tools around the island on a fast motorcycle and, after 14 years of living there, has slid right in to the mellow pace of Jamaican life. But of course, that’s all about to change.
He’s summoned to a ritzy hotel in Ocho Rios to meet one Arthur Wayne, who hires him to dive a yacht called the Grave Descend, which had inexplicably sunk the previous day in Jamaican waters. Wayne is a rep for a marine insurance company which has insured the yacht for over $2 million. Naturally, he wants answers. Flying in diving talent and equipment from Miami or Nassau would be prohibitively expensive, so he calls McGregor, who agrees to do the job for $10,000.
It goes without saying that things do not go smoothly. A mysterious sculpture, along with a fortune in European diamonds, are supposed to have gone down with the yacht, and Wayne wants McGregor to retrieve them. Things get sticky from then on.
Grave Descend is a most enjoyable read, despite Crichton’s career-long aversion to sharply-defined characters with depth. The plot moves right along, and in a logical fashion. The action pops up at the right time, and the reader will feel a couple of moments of pure terror. A nice twist at the end caps it all off.
Hard Case Crime is in the process of re-releasing eight of Crichton’s Lange novels, and Titan provided this one to me at no cost. Whether it’s one of his big bestsellers or a smaller crime fiction novel, Crichton’s ability to construct a plot and tell a story is without parallel, and he kept me turning the page. I intend to read all the Lange books, and I’m hoping they’re all as good as Grave Descend.
Recommendation: A low-key pulp curio from an otherwise blockbuster writer. Crichton connects on this one. Buy it.