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`Floodtide' a wild high-seas cruise, but dialogue founders

Chiang Kai-shek knew his days in China were numbered. As part of his preparation to leave his homeland in 1949, he secretly had a large number of art treasures - and the bones of Peking Man - loaded on an old cruise ship, the Princess Dou Wan. He planned to send them somewhere safe to be stored.

But the elegant old liner never made it, breaking up and sinking in a violent storm, just miles from its destination. Men died and the cargo came to rest under tons of water.Half a century later, Dirk Pitt of the Naval Underwater and Marine Agency, tries to pick up the pieces of his life while he recovers from serious injuries. But his plans to fish and regroup are abruptly shattered when he discovers a mysterious ship that is throwing illegal Chinese immigrants overboard to drown.

How the two events can be related is grist for a Clive Cussler tale. And in his latest, "Floodtide," Cussler proves that no one does adventure better.

The cause of the immigrant problem is an evil, disgustingly rich and avaricious importer named Qin Shang, who has no respect for any life but his own. He gets rich by plundering and destroying people who want nothing more than a new life in a free land.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service knows what he'sdoing, but is powerless to stop him until Pitt stumbles on the scene and rescues some of the human flotsam and jetsam - including beautiful INS agent Julia Lee.

The next thing the reader knows, Pitt is engaged in a mad race to destroy Qin Shang before his forces can kill Pitt.

It's a fun and wild ride that takes the readers across the United States, from the Mississippi River into Bayou Country.

As usual, Cussler's pacing and sense of adventure are acute. His sense of dialog is much less so, relying too often on cliches and stilted conversation.

But let's face it; no one buys a Cussler book for the stellar dialog. The action and attempts to salvage a shipwreck (you guessed it, "Princess Dou Wan"), are the main events.

Here, he doesn't disappoint readers, treating them to a page-turning series of events that keeps everyone guessing what will happen next - and yet, when it comes, it's always unexpected.

It's a yarn woven by a master, and Pitt fans will love it.