Monday, February 13, 2012

The Deep / by Peter Benchley

While scuba diving on their honeymoon in Bermuda, David Sanders and his new wife Gail stumble across a small vial containing a peculiar, amber colored liquid. When it becomes clear, after a local tries to buy the artifact, that it may hold some value, David and Gail seek out a man named Romer Treece, living in an hard-to-get-to part of the island who fills them in. He tells them point blank that the vial is filled with morphine, that it's likely part of the sunken cargo which went down with a ship called Goliath during WWII and that, very likely, there's plenty more vials just like it near where they found it. Bermuda being what it is, a very, very small and isolated place, news gets around fast about the Sanders' find, particularly to the wrong kind of people. Drug dealers headed by a Haitian man named Henry Cloche want David and Gail to dive for more viles--even small quantities of morphine can mean very large quantities of heroin--and, through a clever set of blackmailing maneuvers which garner the couple's cooperation, soon engage the services of both the Sanders' and Treece. There's more than meets the eye to the operation, however, as the cargo ship still contains combustible explosives which could detonate if not handled properly. There's also the matter of an unexpected find discovered during a subsequent dive. It's a Spanish Galleon, sunken centuries earlier which contains a number of genuine, solid gold artifacts. They know that what they find, they'll be able to sell or keep (for the most part) but Treece and the Sanders don't have much time; Cloche has set a deadline and he means to keep his word over the violent threats he's made if the business isn't completed. The diving party, already on edge because of a potential detonation and sharks, must now work against the clock to uncover the drugs, retrieve what they can of the treasure and decide how they'll manage a disclosure of all they know when and if they safely get out of "the deep".

Obviously best known for writing Jaws, from which the blockbuster movie and its sequels emerged, Peter Benchley was sort of a modern day Melville at a time, mid-1970's, when adventure novels were undergoing a transition. Technothrillers had become mainstream and while not too much into science and technology, Benchley was certainly an author who new a lot about nature and marine biology, incorporating much of it into his work and contributing to a broadening genre. The Deep is not as good as Jaws. The characters aren't quite as stimulating, their relationships more stifled, and there's no hulking menace of a giant shark to give the book the level of suspense required to enhance appeal. It's a solid outing though, practical in its approach and believable enough in tone and scope. David Sanders isn't quite Martin Brody and Treece is nowhere as colorful as Quint but sympathy for the predicament of the good guys and the obvious evil intentions of the villains enlivens the plot and creates more of a thriller novel out of what could have just been an average treasure hunting or scuba diving story. (FIC BENCHLEY)

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