Grave Descend: Suspense at its most efficient
Michael Crichton was, indeed, studying medicine when he wrote the novel around 1970 under the name John Lange, and he was so loath to waste words and time that he cut straight to the cliffhangers and surprising set-ups. Descriptions are brief. Placed in pain and peril, the protagonist, a salvage diver named McGregor, simply and efficiently works his way out of them without narrative hyperventilation about what will happen if he fails. Nothing about extra-terrestrial micro-organisms or dinosaur DNA here.
The plot is simple and its narrative engine simpler: McGregor, who lives and works in Jamaica, is hired to retrieve something from a sunken boat, and nothing is what it seems. Crichton followed the plan strictly, and every deviation from the expected is one more cliff-hanger, one more suspense-builder, one more reason to make the reader keep turning the pages. And then, when Crichton decided it was time to end the story, he threw in a coda that, if arbitrary, is plausible and even a bit shiver-inducing. Grave Descend is an entertaining way to pass a couple of hours, and its stripped-down mechanics probably make it a worthwhile textbook for writing suspense.
© Peter Rozovsky 2014