Book Review: Kitty Pilgrim’s The Explorer’s Code

Posted October 30, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Kitty Pilgrim’s The Explorer’s Code

The Explorer's Code


Kitty Pilgrim

mystery, thriller that was published by Scribner on June 28, 2011 and has 452 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

The first in the John Sinclair mystery (I thought it was a romantic suspense) involving an archeologist and an oceanographer when she inherits a family legacy.

My Take

The concept and the characters are great. Unfortunately, the story’s execution, in so very many senses of that word, is too surface and immature.

It’s — eventually — a sweet romance that finds Cordelia and John entangled in international intrigue with numerous attacks. The odd thing is that the attackers are all so inept and it’s a good thing that Pilgrim keeps telling us what everyone is feeling and thinking because you’d never know from the storyline. Pilgrim doesn’t bother with developing the story or creating any depth to make us feel what’s happening or that would lead us to conclude for ourselves, instead she relies upon words to tell us that Cordelia is attracted. That John is falling in love. That Frost…gimme a break…thinks John could be a good agent. I really don’t get that one. That comment was so out of the blue.

It reads more like a really developed outline. As though Pilgrim started out with a basic outline and then kept building up the outline. She just forgot to include the flesh, the meat for this story.

I probably should have given this a “2”, but she really did make an effort, and she certainly had a lot of help. I have to wonder just how bad it was if this was the best all those professionals could help her create. I wonder if she had so much help and, perhaps, a really tight deadline. That all that help kept throwing “oh, ya gotta have a world-threatening conspiracy” and “ya gotta have…”, one after the other and she just kept adding these extra bits in because ya just gotta have. The food descriptions feel like they were plopped in because “they gotta be there”. Whoever proofread did a really nice job.

I never really did understand the purpose of Peter Oakley and his quest for the flu samples. Sure, it’s a great opportunity for a few dead bodies and some tension, but how did this play into the primary plot? Even the bit about the people who fall sick doesn’t really go anywhere. There’s all this possibility that just gets wasted. Why bother bringing Oleg into this?

The whole money thing as it relates to Cordelia is confusing. She claims that Gardiner must have spent his own money to fill in the blanks when she was growing up, yet she is running an oceanographic research project at twenty-seven and money doesn’t seem to be a problem. When she finds out about her unexpected inheritance, she’s running out to all sorts of fancy stores and buying shopping bags of clothes. This just doesn’t compute.

John keeps having these insightful moments that don’t ring true. Then there’s Cordelia. Oh, brother, she behaves more like she’s thirteen instead of like an intelligent adult. Between the emotional, social, and security issues, she’s not very believable. Then there’s John’s little snit at the end… Pilgrim needs to put some work into this.

On the plus side, I do like that Pilgrim chose out-of-the-way locations for the pivotal areas of her story. Not many write about Longyearbyen or Ephesus. And I do have a passion for archeology, well the anthropological aspect of it anyway!

The Story

An orphan, Cordelia is used to being alone. She’s really only happy when she’s on the research boat, diving, exploring, performing the research that is her raison d’etre. It practically takes a nuclear blast to force her to go to the awards ceremony where her great-great-grandfather, Elliott Stapleton, is being honored for his work in the Arctic.

It’s where her life will change. Meeting John Sinclair, the Mediterranean cruise, the inheritance from the only other Stapleton, the clumsy spies tracking her every move…

The Characters

Cordelia Stapleton is the sole remaining family member after a distant cousin, Peter Stapleton, keels over. Jules Verne and her great-great-grandfather, Elliott Stapleton, have influenced her career choice and she is at the top of her field of oceanography. And, oh man, is she ever twitchy and socially inept! Joel and Susan are part of her crew. Jim Gardiner is the lawyer who has been more father to her than her legal guardian ever since her parents died when she was twelve years old.

John Sinclair made his fortune and now he spends his time working the dig at Ephesus in Turkey. There’s nothing for him in America and only Charles Bonnard, the friend who runs John’s Herodotus Foundation, can get him to leave the dig. Malik is his helper in Turkey. Shari is his internationally famous model girlfriend. The Contessa Giorgiana Brindisi is another old girlfriend. Valkyrie is his Norwegian elkhound at the dig.

Oleg and Evgeny are Russians whose business empires have been run into the ground and they’re both desperate to retrieve part of Cordelia’s legacy in return for which the Russian government will bail them out of at least some of their problems. Evgeny has hired two couples to help: Vlad and Anna are Russian, flashy and plastic while Bob and Marlene are fat Americans with a religious agenda. Lance is one of Bob’s people. Such nice Christians. They have no problem killing others for their own aims.

Paul Oakley is a British researcher specializing in the pandemic of 1918. He is one of the foremost authorities in the world and he and Miles are working to recover viable samples so they can create a cure.

Thaddeus Frost is the executive director of the Bio-Diversity Trust. He’s also an undercover operative for the U.S. government. Erin Burke is the agent who will serve as bait. Gjertrud is a fellow passenger on the Queen Victoria. And an agent for the Norwegian government. And wasn’t her cover and approach a lame one? This started to feel like a classy Keystone Kops. Clothilde is Charles’ disabled sister.

Elliott Stapleton is the world-renowned polar explorer from the turn of the twentieth century. Sir James Skye Russell and Percival Spence III were his partners. Tom and Marian Skye Russell are old friends of the Stapleton family (Oh yeah? Then where were they when Delia was orphaned??) and live at Cliffmere, an organic farming operation in Oxfordshire.

The Cover and Title

The cover is a fabulous combination of a bright colonial blue with a longitude and latitude of the world softly overlaying it, representing Cordelia’s area of expertise while the ruined façade of Ephesus is in stark contrast upholding John’s chosen career. It also has more depth than the story.

The title refers to Cordelia’s grandfather and the steps he took to protect his legacy, The Explorer’s Code, which presents a challenge to everyone involved.