Fool's gold: Colorado author Clive Cussler keeps raking in the bucks--if not the Pulitzers--with his Dirk Pitt thrillers. The most recent, Inca Gold, is the usual yawn of a yarn, noteworthy primarily for three distinctly Cusslerian conceits. One is the author's inclusion of himself in the action, in this case as an old coot with an important clue to the whereabouts of a buried treasure sought by Pitt and a bunch of bad guys. The second is Cussler's obsession with the metric system, evident as early as this prologue: "In 1997 the United States, the only nation in the world still adhering to a non-decimal standard of measurement, finally converted to the metric system--a compelling necessity if the nation wanted to be competitive in the international trade arena." As most of Inca Gold's action takes place the following year, Cussler gives all measurements (and there are plenty in a deep-sea/buried-treasure adventure) in meters/ liters, with parenthetical asides for the mathematically challenged. This tactic, however, interjects inadvertently hilarious breaks in the action, to wit: "Pitt's heart pumped a good five liters (a gallon) of adrenaline through his system."

Finally, there's Pitt's girlfriend, who starts the book in red leather pants and winds up buck naked. In between, she's as "bright and perceptive as they come," Cussler notes. After all, "a five-term congresswoman from the state of Colorado, she was respected by her colleagues for her grasp of difficult issues and her uncanny gift for coming up with solid solutions. Vivacious and outgoing in the halls of Congress, Loren was a private woman, seldom showing up at dinner parties and political functions, preferring to stay close to her townhouse in Alexandria, studying her aides' recommendations on bills coming up for a vote and responding to her constituents' mail."

And signing her notes with a happy face? When asked if she was the inspiration for Cussler's creation, Colorado's only veteran congresswoman, Representative Pat Schroeder, denies any culpability. And Schroeder's veteran aide, Dan Buck, offers an even more convincing denial. "She cooks?" he asks, when told the heroine whips up a gourmet brunch. "That definitely lets Mrs. Schroeder off the hook."

Post, toasted: Newspapers often feel burned at awards ceremonies, but at Friday's Society of Professional Journalists banquet, the Denver Post couldn't win for winning. Just the day before, editor Neil Westergaard reportedly had blown his stack over several wire-service "gays in love" stories grouped in Thursday's paper. Then, when the Post nabbed the SPJ's highest honor, the Best of the Best, it was for "Battleground: the fight over gay rights," a special sixteen-page report on Amendment 2. The Post also took first in general commentary for columns by J. Elyse Singleton--the local writer dumped several months ago by the paper when her name failed to register so much as a blip on a readers' survey. Also gone: popular columnist Molly Ivins. Her sin? Writing too much about Texas and not enough of national interest, according to editorial-page editor Chuck Green.


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