Saturday, May 18, 2024

The Heist, Featuring Detective Isaac Bell, Arrives Just In Time for Summer Adventure


Scott D. Parker

Clive Cussler knew his readers.

The prolific author wrote over sixty books in his lifetime (he died in 2020 at age 88) spread across five main series: Dirk Pitt, Sam and Remi Fargo, the Oregon files, and Kurt Austin. But it is the Isaac Bell series that captured my attention from the jump.

The Isaac Bell series features the titular character, the lead detective of the Van Dorn detective agency. As ruggedly handsome as you can imagine, dogged in his determination to find the culprit, and devoted to justice, Bell is the kind of man you want on your side. 

All of the stories are set in the early 20th Century and that is what attracted me to them. Unlike, say, the Dirk Pitt novels—that often have a slightly alternative history quality to them—the Bell novels fit squarely into real history. I tend to think of them along the lines of “well, that certainly could have happened.”

The Cold Open in The Heist is Pretty Hot

Cussler’s novels are always good, reliable action/adventure mystery/thrillers guaranteed to be the summer blockbuster movie you see in your mind and The Heist is no different. 

The latest novel debuted last week and, just like any Bell novel, it opens with a bang. Literally. Bell finds himself on the presidential yacht of Woodrow Wilson. It’s 1914 and he’s invited the members of the federal reserve as they launch the organization. All seems to be going well until a rogue airplane launches an attack: incendiary bombs are dropped on the boat. Bell, naturally, saves the day, but that launches his new investigation.

Until he’s reassigned to another case. He’s called out to a mansion in Rhode Island where he is to serve as a “second opinion” for a rich guy who is accused of killing his wife. In a fascinating three-chapter sequence, author Jack Du Brul (now the primary author for the Bell series after Justin Scott wrote the nine of the first ten entries) delivers what is, in essence, a short story in the middle of the novel. The solution is ingenious and could easily stand on its own as a story.

The Actual Heist is Massive

But this is a novel and with its title, we need something big. And we got it. In our age of instant communications and cell phones and satellites, it can sometimes be difficult to remember how slow we used to talk with each other and just how much we didn’t know if it wasn’t published in the newspapers. The Isaac Bell novels are a nice reminder of this, and this lack of communications plays a big part in the heist.

It actually boggles the mind, which is a nifty trick to pull off in a book set more than a century before today. When you have a series character like Isaac Bell, it’s rare the hero loses. The joy comes in the locations, the devices the hero uses, and specifically the steps and daring do Bell takes to get his man.

The Narrator is Fantastic

I’ve written before how much I enjoy Scott Brick as an audiobook narrator. I cannot recall the first book I heard with Brick as a narrator, but he became an instant favorite. He has the ability to characterize the existing prose with different emphasis and nuances that make for a better listening experience. When I discovered the Bell series and learned Brick was the narrator, I actually latched onto Brick as Bell. I, of course, have “cast” Isaac Bell in my mind, but it’s Brick’s voice I hear. 

In fact, on Thursday night, strong storms blew through Houston and knocked the power out at my house. My wife and I turned to books to pass the time and I pulled up my ebook copy from the Libby app and started to read.

And “heard” Brick’s narration.

The Isaac Bell series is a wonderful historical thriller series I highly recommend, and Jack Du Brul’s The Heist carries on the tradition. If you need a good, old-fashioned cat-and-mouse story, this book fits the bill.

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