The publication of Depth Charge, by Jason Heaton, marks the culmination of an eighteen-month saga with which many fans of The Grey NATO will be familiar. Heaton, a cohost and co-producer of the popular watch and gear-oriented podcast, has dropped teasers and offered insight into the creative process throughout various episodes of the broadcast. Amongst that audience, I suspect the release of his first novel has been hotly anticipated—and now—eagerly devoured. In truth, I count myself amongst that group of devotees, and I doubt very much that any of them was disappointed.
Depth Charge is a rollicking high-seas adventure in the style of Clive Cussler or even Ian Fleming—a story chalked full of “travel, adventure, diving, gear, and most certainly watches.”
In the fashion of Cussler, Heaton opens his tale deep in the past—long before our story begins—using seemingly disparate characters. In the case of Depth Charge, this is April 9th, 1942 at the Cavendish Laboratories in Cambridge, England during the thick of WWII. The seed of this mystery is planted here and then blooms in the present day, “eight nautical miles east of Batticaloa, Sri Lanka.” While Cussler had Dirk Pitt, Heaton has created Julian “Tusker” Tusk—perhaps a more down-to-earth hero with a similar stoic resolve. Tusker, an American archaeologist, accomplished diver, and professor of marine biology, finds himself thrust unsuspectingly into the heart of this mystery while on loan to MOCHA—the fictional Sri Lankan Ministry of Culture, History, and Archaeology. Tusker’s antagonist, Malcolm Rausing, is a page torn from Fleming, and a character that readers will love to hate. The novel is otherwise populated with long-lost shipwrecks, political intrigue, and, of course, a beautiful woman.
Despite these tropes of the genre, Depth Charge is more than the sum of its parts. Heaton’s protagonist is human and fallible. He is a man of action, but also of guilt and self-doubt. His love interest is accomplished and capable, and certainly defies the convention of a damsel in distress. At one point, she even strips down the differential of a Landrover and jerry-rigs a roadside patch while Tusker can do no more that lend a proverbial hand. But more than that, Heaton refuses to fall into the trap of exoticizing a non-western locale. His adventure is charged with cultural acuity and political sensitivity without descending into dogma.
At times, the writing also transcends its genre, particularly in its literary descriptiveness. “The eerie ambient light from the diving bell above lit the scene on the sea floor like a minimalist Greek tragedy, an armored warrior grappling with a minotaur on a naked stage.” Heaton’s attention to detail—his wont to get things right—will also be appreciated by readers. Whatever holes he could not fill with his own experience in diving and travel, he backfilled with meticulous research and oversight from a wide circle of capable expert acquaintances. And in spite of this meticulous attention to the technical aspects of diving and to history, Heaton never leaves the layman behind. I have no doubt that his years as a professional writer with Gear Patrol and Hodinkee, among others, have helped to hone these skills.
Finally, no Heaton offering would be satisfactory without the cameo appearance of a few choice timepieces—not the least among which being Tusker’s venerable Aquastar Benthos. The timepiece in question was actually leant to the author by brand exec, Rick Marei, as motivation during the penning of this book.
Among the more interesting tidbits surrounding the release of Depth Charge has to be its soundtrack. Composer Oran Chan, a friend of the author wrote the almost six-minute score after seeing a mock-up of the novel’s cover. It is available on YouTube, and more than worth a listen.
Ultimately, Depth Charge is a compelling adventure told in episodic—one might say cinematic—fashion that will leave adventure lovers satisfied and wanting more.
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