Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
In today’s world, opportunities for adventure are few. Travel restrictions prevent any experience beyond the routine. The hero in Jake Avila’s book, Cave Diver, however, lives on thrills and adrenaline that grip to the very last (over 400!) page. The weeks in which the action occurs are crammed with incidents that seize a reader’s attention, and grasp it, unflaggingly, until the very finale.
Rob Nash, an explorer and experienced cave diver, in the opening chapters, courts danger by surf paddling the monstrous waves off the WA’s Margaret River. This is, for him, a form of relaxation. He is stricken by grief and guilt, having survived a caving episode where his beloved wife, Natalie, perished. His depression had lowered him into huge financial strife as well.
“Uncle” Frank approaches him with a proposal which sounds irresistible – to explore the famous Hoosenbeck Cave in PNG, and to solve his money woes.
The narrative that follows is a skillful blend of all that combines to make an adventure thriller extraordinary.
Rob Nash is courageous, intelligent, and convincingly human.
His friend, Uncle Frank Douglas is alcoholic, ageing, and yet still operates as a pilot. Sura, daughter of the villainous President of Indonesia, is beautiful, utterly unscrupulous and cruel. She is aided by the besotted Afrikaner, Jaap, who is immensely strong but displays the nature of a savage dog. Mia, an American doctor, is returning to the mission where she hopes to continue its work with the people who live in the mountainous jungle.
The focus becomes the dangerous journey by boat to the Hoosenbeck Gorge where a WW 2 submarine, laden with opium and gold bullion, lies in the cave which floods annually and has lain untouched for decades because of the challenge of access. To retrieve the tons of gold bullion requires the specialised skills of the highly experienced diver, Rob Nash. Time is running out; the attempt appears life-threatening.
The most impressive attribute of Cave Diver is the brilliant detail with which the entire operation is described. Some authors fail to hold attention by failing to get the balance right – either exhaustive or too sketchy.
Avila uses detail, gained from his own experience as a highly qualified diver, as a clever device to make the whole enterprise very real and very exciting. This is particularly so in the final chapters when the threat to Rob’s, Mia’s, and Frank’s lives looms, the waters gush down in a monsoonal downpour and men wrestle with the intricacies of entering the submarine.
Explosions of helicopters are graphically described, the jungle, hot and humid conditions, the beauty of the New Guinea landscape.
There is so much violent action, that it could be classified as a Hollywood movie, but it is much better than that.
Characters and settings are vivid. The plot is neatly realised with loose ends explained – for example, how the isolated hospital, not supported by any charity, or government, has functioned for years.
The plotting by the groups of interested parties, ruthless villains, pitted against Nash, Mia and Frank, in the race to reach the bounty before the imminent flood, adds tension. This makes it impossible to put down!
Thrillers of this kind usually don’t appeal to me, especially with its explicit violence. Cave Diver is so well done, so full of interest, and completely escapist from the Pandemic world, that I wholeheartedly recommend it. Truly an excellent diversion for those in Lockdown!
by Jake Avila
ISBN 978 176068 700 7