In taking a brief respite from Cussler’s NUMA Files, I decided to delve into his Isaac Bell Adventures, his most unique series starring Isaac Bell, the lead detective in the Van Dorn Detective Agency during the very early 20th century. Wisely, I began with Book 1 in the series, The Chase, which chronicles Bell’s pursuit of a ruthless bank robber dubbed “The Butcher Bandit,” a mysterious psychopath who murders every eyewitness to his crimes and escapes without a trace. I feel that this first book could have been a fantastic standalone novel in its own right, but of course that’s just not how Cussler rolls.
Like Dirk Pitt, who technically wouldn’t come onto the scene until about 70 years later, Isaac Bell is another brawny, car-loving protagonist so strikingly handsome that womenfolk can’t seem to ever look away. Bell is also as gentlemanly macho as Pitt, Kurt Austin, or Juan Cabrillo ever could be, which fits Cussler’s writing scheme to a “T”: create a powerfully likeable dude skilled in his trade, put him up across a seemingly unconquerable force, and just go from there. I’ve been reading these books for only five years now, but I really never tire of unique-yet-identical plot structures. Adventure’s adventure, and these books surely slake my appetite.
Apart from the story itself, I really enjoyed the change of setting from Cussler’s favorite oceans to the mining towns of America’s turn-of-the-century West. The Old West has never been a favorite of mine (I’ve mentioned before that I just can’t get into Louis La’Mour), but since having visited many of the Western States this past year and seen their natural beauty, I found that I was much more able to picture the scenes in my imagination as I read. Besides that, the constant steam-train and box-car scenes have even made watching Thomas and Friends with my boy a bit more exciting, as if Jacob Cromwell just might be hiding in Annie or Clarabel without Thomas realizing it, and Isaac Bell’s racing up the pass inside Percy or James.
One thing I found strange about this book, though, is Cussler’ consistent (and therefore seemingly intentional) misjudgment of time. Pretty much whenever he mentions how many seconds or minutes it takes his characters either to do or to realize something, it’s unnecessarily long. Are theese character’s slow reaction-times a literary attempt at making this time-piece “black and white” for the reader, I wonder, like an old-time moving picture? Because I respect Cussler as a writer, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. I enjoyed this one a lot, and I’d recommend it as a standalone to someone just wanting to try Cussler out.