Inca Gold does not reinvent the novel or even deviate from its author's formulaic writing style. It relies on the author's name, his persona, a collection of recurring characters, and, most importantly, the American males' insatiable appetite for action novels. Many critics abhor Cussler's writing style and others dislike his macho subject matter, but Cussler's loyal readers continue to buy his Dirk Pitt novels, making these books consistently successful, and, as in the case of Inca Gold, making some best sellers.
The first element of Inca Gold which drove sales was the author's name recognition. Clive Cussler, though not as widely known as bestseller mainstays Tom Clancy and Stephen King, had made a name for himself before the release of Inca Gold. With 100 million copies of his novels currently in circulation and the ten novels appearing on the weekly best seller's list prior to the release of Inca Gold, Cussler had an established fan base and received the title "Grand master of the American action/adventure novel" (www.numa.net). Many critics even recognized him as the American version of Ian Flemming and saw his character Dirk Pitt as "the Navy's own answer to James Bond" (Korelitz). One of his novels, Raise the Titanic, had crossed medium lines and was made into a movie, like those of noted authors Tom Clancy and Stephen King. Book publishers recognized this popularity with readers and were quick to exploit it. On the cover of the first edition of Inca Gold, Cussler's name appeared in a similar sized font to the title of the book, much like the font ratio used on the cover of Crichton's Andromeda Strain. Also, in smaller print underneath the title was the statement, "By the author of Sahara," which was Cussler's previous, and quite successful, novel, showing the desire to play off of Cussler's previous success.
Inca Gold also benefited from Cussler's larger than life personality. Upon the founding of NUMA, his underwater exploration organization, Cussler took some of his book profits and funded and participated in various hunts for undiscovered shipwrecks, garnering him attention from national media organizations like National Public Radio. This free press helped book sales, because it gave Cussler appeal that many authors did not possess. His adventurous life rivaled that of his books' hero much like Ian Fleming had with James Bond. As proven by the success of The Sea Hunters, a non-fiction novel which told of his own sea adventures, readers wanted to read about Cussler as well as his hero, Dirk Pitt. Since the character was loosely based on Cussler to begin with, readers could have the benefit of reading a fast moving novel while retaining some element of intimacy with the author. Were this not enough, Inca Gold included a cameo by Cussler himself, who aided Pitt in figuring out just where the treasure must have been buried. Thus, the novel drew on Cussler's reputation as an explorer to sell more books.
Cussler's classic car collection also helped add to the author's mystique. His massive collection contained eighty cars, among them a 1936 Pierce-Arrow and a Travelodge Trailer which appeared as Pitt's car in Inca Gold. Again, this harnessed the selling power of Cussler's persona with Inca Gold. Since Cussler's fans were already waiting for the "publication of a coffee table book about his car collection" (www.numa.net), publishers played up this element and adorned the back cover with a picture of Cussler next to the Pierce-Arrow and trailer. This had a similar effect as Ian Flemming's picture on the cover of You Only Live Twice, where he posed with a pistol much like Bond, since both tied the author's persona in with the central character and plot of the novel.
Though Inca Gold profited from its author's name recognition and charismatic personality, it was Cussler's knowledge of the field of sea exploration and air force technology that kept the book successful. Writing about an occupation in which he also participated in, Cussler showed a mastery of terms and technology that made this often far-fetched adventure plot at least scientifically plausible. Dirk Pitt and Al Giordino's dive into the sinkhole to save two other explorers included such detailed descriptions as, "He was wearing a full EXO-26 face mask from Diving Systems International with an exothermic air regulator good for polluted water applications" (Inca Gold 43). Though virtually no readers would know whether this description was correct or not, their knowledge of Cussler's expertise in this area would allow them to believe the details and move smoothly into the plot while also making the book as realistic as possible. Other authors like Tom Clancy and Michael Crichton use the same technique. In Patriot Games, Clancy was praised for his "knowledge of military tactics and hardware" (Sherman 5), information an insider of sorts alone could possess. Though Clancy did not work as a military man as his main character Jack Ryan did, he met with CIA officials and other military insiders to become part of the world he wrote about (Sherman 5) and became knowledgeable enough to give lectures to the CIA on occasion (Sherman 3). A closer parallel to Cussler's Inca Gold would be Crichton's Andromeda Strain. Here Crichton used his previous training as a doctor to create a book which, "reads like a thoroughly scientific report on which all life depends" (Reet 5). Crichton's experience as a doctor gave him the ability to describe the horrid plague in scientific detail and thus make the book, despite its somewhat far-fetched plot, believable. Probably the closest parallel to Cussler's Inca Gold, though, is Ian Fleming's You Only Live Twice. Ian Fleming's earlier work as a spy provided validity to his portrayal of the spy industry, despite the fact Bond, like Pitt, is hardly a true example of his profession.
Inca Gold also uses the recurring character of Dirk Pitt to entice readers. Since Cussler's earlier books containing the character Dirk Pitt were popular, Cussler could count on many of these fans to read the next Pitt book. The technique of recurring characters was not unique to Inca Gold, either. Many of Tom Clancy's novels featured Jack Ryan and Ian Fleming's James Bond had long since been a recognizable character in his books. However, unlike most of the Tom Clancy novels, Inca Gold referred to the book's hero on the cover. The appearance of "A Dirk Pitt Novel" just above Cussler's name on the front cover of Inca Gold, showed the publisher's desire to sell the book based on its familiar main character. This cover closely resembled the covers of Ian Fleming books which had James Bond's name somewhere on the front.
The reason for the prominent display of Dirk Pitt on the front of the book serves the same purpose as the display of Bond's name had years before. First, the character himself was very popular with readers. One reader explained Dirk's appeal, stating, "Dirk is a combination of James Bond, MacGyver, and Indiana Jones and deserves to be in the movies" (email@example.com). Even one critic who did not like Inca Gold admitted, "You'd have to go far to find a more all-boy hero than Dirk Pitt" (Korelitz). The appeal of Dirk Pitt fiction goes beyond Pitt himself, though. Like the Bond series, Dirk has an entourage that accompanies him in his adventures. These characters give the reader a sense of familiarity while also allowing them additional characters to relate to. In Inca Gold, Al Giordino returns as Pitt's faithful sidekick and serves as the never-say-die co-adventurer who saves Pitt from death numerous times during the story. Admiral Sandecker and Rudi Gunn also appear in the book to help tie Inca Gold to the rest of the books in the Pitt series.
Most importantly, though, Congresswoman Loren Smith returns as Pitt's girlfriend and serves her role as the captured woman in distress, just like the Bond girls dutifully had. Also, like the Bond girls, Loren Smith had gained a following among the Pitt and was included in descriptions of major Pitt players, showing just how essential she had become to reader following.
Inca Gold became successful because it presented it had a well-known author who was eccentric but knowledgeable in his field. However, all Cussler books included these elements, leading one to wonder what made this work more successful than his other novels. Readers often commented on the descriptions of Incan artifacts, an element that was not present in any of Cussler's previous works, but this seems far too trivial a reason for the book's greater success. Some readers even believed this to be his best work (firstname.lastname@example.org). More readers, though, thought the book almost identical to his other books and found the same flaws. So, it did not seem that the content of the book was the reason for its new level of success.
Just before the release of Inca Gold, a controversy sprung up concerning the James Bond movies. On April 11, 1994, current Bond movie lead Timothy Dalton officially quit as James Bond, creating a national media frenzy over who the successor would be (http://jamesbond.simplenet.com/remingtonsteele/brosnan). Both Entertainment Tonight and Hard Copy ran polls in April and May on who the new Bond-man should be, and on June 7,1994, Pierce Brosnan was named the new James Bond (http://jamesbond.simplenet.com/remingtonsteele/brosnan). Since Dirk Pitt was not only in the same genre as James Bond but also had been frequently called Bond's successor, this sudden jump in interest concerning the Bond role could have helped out Inca Gold. Inca Gold was released in early May in the middle of this excitement, and had all but dropped off the best seller's charts by late July, seeming to tie at least some of its success to the James Bond controversy.
Clive Cussler's Inca Gold enjoyed success because it had a famous author who produced an admirable hero and good set of supporting characters for the readers to follow. The tie between the James Bond movie controversy and Inca Gold book sales could quite easily be a coincidence, which leaves the success of Inca Gold over other Cussler books a mystery. Still, few can doubt the appeal of Dirk Pitt and his action packed adventures for the American public, showing why Inca Gold had all the elements to be a best seller.
Korelitz, Jean Hanff "Inca Gold." Washington Post.
June 12, 1994, X08
From class home page:
Reet, Brian Van. Crichton, Michael: The Andromeda Strain
Maloney, Joseph. Fleming, Ian: You Only Live Twice
Sherman, John. Clancy, Tom: Patriot Games