Crackdown is the third of Cornwell’s contemporary nautical thrillers, first published in the UK in 1991. It is very unlike the previous books Sea Lord and Wildtrack in that it is set in the Bahamas rather than coastal England, and revolves around an ex-Marine with the bizarre name Nick Breakspear. Breakspear’s father is a world-renowned actor who Nick has turned his back on and instead, after leaving the armed forces, sails the exotic islands of the Bahamas on luxury chartered yachts.
Of course, it’s not long before Nick runs into trouble in the form of a wreck clearly sunk with the aid of automatic weapons and a warning to keep his nose out of it from the obviously corrupt police chief. The action however, really only gets going once Cornwell has given us a taste of the seedy underworld of drug dealers shipping consignments of cocaine over to Miami in tricked out speedboats, and introduced the various characters who orbit Nick in an increasingly outlandish story which turns up the action dial to 11 and the realism dial down to 1.
The bulk of the story revolves around the proposal to take the son and daughter of a US Senator on a ‘cruise cure’ where they can overcome their cocaine addictions. Sailing a couple of druggies through an area known to be rife with drug-smugglers and murderers for some reason seems to make perfect sense to the senator, and needing the money Nick agrees. The resulting chaos leaves one crew member dead and the Senator’s offspring sprung off the yacht to the HQ of the local drug-smugglers. Nick, like pretty much every male Cornwell character before him, still finds time to fall in love with his leggy female crewmate Ellen, who to up the ante in the plot then disappears presumed kidnapped by the drug-smugglers.
In the ludicrous finale of the book Nick bands together with a shady ex-America footballer and pilot nicknamed Maggot and the Senator to go on a daring mission to bring back his children and find Ellen. Luckily Maggot has a collection of automatic rifles, sub-machine-guns and machine guns at his disposal and when all else fails the Senator is able to call in help from the US Navy who just happens to be carrying out manoeuvres in the area.
It’s the silliest book by Bernard Cornwell I have ever read and not a patch on the two books that precede it. Some of the Bahamian characters speak in a patois which might have felt well-observed at the time of writing but no comes across as a little racist. Perhaps the only thing of true note in this book is Nick’s mentions every now and again of his Christian faith. While they’re not religious essays the comments are equally not weighted with any cynicism. Nick for once sounds like a true-believer and perhaps feels like God might be on his side when he’s shooting drug-smuggler cronies in the night time. This is very unusual in Cornwell’s canon which largely comes down hard time and again on Christianity.
As a curiosity for a Cornwell fan such as me, I guess Crackdown is worth reading. Perhaps if only to say “thank God he got the idea of writing contemporary thrillers out of his system”, however since I have two more of these waiting on my bookshelf, I know there’s more of this to get through before we’re back to his stock-in-trade – historical fiction.