For the first time in a long while for me, a Cussler novel begins like any old average book, without a thrilling and historical prologue that sets the stage for all that follows. The slow walk into the novel influenced my attention span on this one, I must say, so at about Chapter 12, I took a 3-month holiday. I got bored with Isaac Bell (Book #3) and the mysterious spy, “the saboteur of minds,” igniting attacks against the U.S. Navy. Though I eventually did get back to and finish the book, I’m not entirely thrilled it wasn’t able to hook me like normal.
While this tale itself was as intriguing as any Cussler novel, involving mystery with action inside a turn of the century setting, it felt like Cussler was pushing the envelope a little bit. He was treating—for the first time in a long while, I might add—as though his readers expect omnipotence from his protagonists, not merely invincibility. While doubtless invincibility is a key feature of any serial, the omnipotence aspect just made the whole story seem more ridiculous, and therefore disappointing, than expected. This became most clear when Isaac Bell, the tall and independently wealthy detective generally seen gambling on trains or taking his fiancé for drives in his fast cars, expertly captains a ship in a race to save New York City from a rogue submarine. The simplest method for avoiding this unbelievable plot point would have been to place any of the surrounding seamen at the helm, but for some reason at this point, Cussler found realism less appealing than ridiculous action.
The Isaac Bell series has its merits, but it’s certainly not my favorite Cussler collection. Placing a Dirk/Juan/Kurt amalgam into a rough, early 1900s setting likely pleases a fair section of Cussler’s fan base, but it’s just not very much my style. Even so, I’ll keep enjoying them for what they offer, though The Spy will have to remain entirely off my list of favorites.