The Deep, Peter Benchley, 1976

Sanders Couple has an Activity Holiday

The Deep is the second book by Peter Benchley (1940-2006) after the blockbuster and pop culture touchstone Jaws. I have never read -or seen- Jaws so I cannot judge if he sunk into a sophomore slump or not, but The Deep has a feel that appears both easy-going and forced at once. The main characters are David and Gail Sanders, a relatively newly wed sporty couple, who have decided to spend their vacation in the Bermudas, scuba diving at the wreck site of ill-fated WWII military supply ship Goliath. They have no mercenary intentions although the vessel was fabled to transport thousands of ampules of morphine for wartime medical needs. They immediately attract the unwanted attention from a local potentate Henri Cloche, a drug kingpin with political ambitions, who wants to use the two to surface the stash of morphine for him. Stakes get even higher when David and Gail find out that Goliath is lying on top of an earlier wreck, 17th-century Spanish gold ship. Fortunately, they find an ally in Treece, a rough and slightly eccentric lighthouse keeper.

Although The Deep is very informative about how a seemingly effortless dive of only a few feets can become fatal if one does not know what he/she is doing, there is no real sense of danger in this book. Outwardly suave Cloche is not particularly memorable or innovative villain with his usage of voodoo shenanigans as a scare tactic and the Sanders’ are also little on the forgettable side although deeper (no pun intended) characters than in the 1977 movie version by Columbia Pictures. All this makes the abrupt and violent ending, which differs from the movie, feel like an afterthought.

However, The Deep remains smooth entertainment; Benchley’s strong love of sea shines through every page, scenery and locales are colorful and richly described and as a former journalist, Benchley always uploaded his books with interesting nuggets; like the difference between morphine and heroin, what is fire coral, why Spaniards preferred emeralds instead rubies and how to figure out toxicity of a fish before eating with a silver coin.