Dan’s Take: How Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt Made Me a Man

Dirk Pitt shot someone’s dick off.

He might as well have fired a slug into my nascent adolescent genitals that's how shocked I was. I still vividly remember imagining myself as the villain in Clive Cussler’s Inca Gold the moment Pitt wrapped an arm around his throat and shoved a gun down the poor bastard's pants.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised. I mean, this was the same guy that raised the freakin' Titantic in the last Cussler novel I read.

I thought it couldn’t possibly get any better than that. Then Inca Gold used a blowtorch on my imagination and left me hungry for more thrills and mysteries.

It also ensured that I'd forever have a man-crush on the National Underwater and Marine Agency's craggy, witty, and dashing special projects director.

It was my Aunt Cathy who put Pitt in my hands for the first time. I had been watching her read at her kitchen table with her black coffee and cigarettes since before I could form complete sentences. I wanted to read as voraciously as she did. Whenever I'd visit her house, I read everything and anything that was in reach. Thanks to my two female cousins, there was always a Baby-sitter's Club paperback available, as well as books by V.C. Andrews (I know, I know. I'll explain more in tomorrow's podcast). But everything changed when my aunt bought me a copy of Raise the Titanic during one of our many trips to Barnes and Noble. It was my literary bar mitzvah. "Today Daniel you become a man because you will read about a hero that will one day fire off a bad guy's twig and berries," she may have said.

My pulse quickens every time I see this cover. I also feel old because it came out in 1994.

My pulse quickens every time I see this cover. I also feel old because it came out in 1994.

Reading my first Pitt novel led me to Inca GoldCyclopsSahara, and Atlantis Found. Cussler was a gateway drug to David Baldacci, Robert Ludlum, Tom Clancy, and Lee Child. I devoured each author’s novels the way people today binge-watch episodes of House of Cards and Breaking Bad. I’ll never forget excitedly talking to my aunt each time Pitt solved his latest riddle and bagged every potential love interest. Pretty soon I had a black coffee of my own at her kitchen table and a lifetime of vicarious swashbuckling to look back on.

I don’t remember anything about Inca Gold’s plot or its contribution to Pitt’s legacy. That couldn’t matter less. I’ll remember reading the novel in a middle school study hall and listening as two of my teachers sprung into debate after seeing the cover. The female English teacher found Cussler’s novels too full of testosterone, violence, and hammy dialogue. It was no surprise that the male history teacher and I loved them for all of the same reasons. The debate proved that writers and readers were passionate about much more than just the classics and the books featured in the New York Times Book Review. My addiction to the written word was sealed in that classroom, as well as my aunt’s kitchen table.

After Inca Gold, Dirk Pitt became my James Bond. No other literary adventurer will ever knock him off the pedestal I have him on (not even Jack Reacher who muscled and investigated his way into second place). And now, as fate would have it, I have a podcast partner who is part Peruvian and loves that book because it was the first time he had read about Peru in a fiction novel.

I just hope I don’t have to put a bullet in his dick any time soon.

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