The Chase (2007)

Clive Cussler is no stranger to this Armchair Critic. Up until now, his books fit into a few series:

  • The oldest and longest one is the Dirk Pitt series. The last few he has coauthored with his son, Dirk Cussler.
  • The first offshoot is the Kurt Austin series. I've worked my way through most of those, and they're cowritten with Paul Kemprecos.
  • The second offshoot is the Oregon files which I haven't read yet, but is coauthored by Craig Dirgo.
  • The only other one off fiction of the Cussler universe is a children's book.
I went through the above to show you how unusual in Cussler's world a separate one off novel is. Perhaps it's because he has done so much cowriting lately that he wants to do something alone. I also think that after the Sahara fiasco, and his open heart surgery, he wanted a different change of pace. Whatever the true reason, that leads us to this author's latest work, The Chase, which incidentally is a treat for me as I rarely read something this fresh off the press.

Cussler decided to make a break, and start with a completely new character, Isaac Bell. This guy is kind of a Western detective, kind of like if Sherlock Holmes had lived in the Wild West. In addition, Cussler's works are pretty much present day, except for the intros. In The Chase, it takes place in 1906, which is by no accident one hundred years ago when the novel was being written. The setting draws upon Cussler's knowledge of the West, no doubt absorbed from living in Arizona and Colorado for many years.

One of the signature items of a Cussler novel is the background intro that sets the stage by planting some history of the past. Many are almost short stories on their own, but really enhance the novel. This time out, Cussler turns this technique on its side- he starts fifty years later, and then what follows takes us to 1906. It's interesting that he chose to do it this way as it uses one of his own techniques in a novel way.

The plot focuses on a series of bank robberies occurring across the West. Isaac Bell heads up the effort to catch the serial bank robber that kills and witnesses complicating the case, and earning him the title: "The Butcher Bandit." The descriptions are rich, and hearten back to simpler times without computers, cell phones, and cars everywhere. It was also nice to read about some gumshoe detective work that didn't involve a DNA match with a computer database.

The novel does live up to its title, The Chase. After interweaving among the San Francisco earthquake, and subsequent fire, that devastated the city, we have a first rate pursuit on railway tracks across the Wild West that made it difficult to put this book down.

My only disappointment with this whole thing is that reportedly this is a solitary novel. Too bad because I could have read a few more in this type of series with such a compelling hero. Maybe it just needs the right coauthor.

PS: This time the train underwater on the book's cover is accurate.

Overall Grade: A

Reviewed by Jonas

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