Most helpful critical review
42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2012
I have never read a Clive Cussler novel before; I bought this one as a contribution to our public library so I got first dibs on it. With so many novels from so many series under his belt, Cussler comes out once more with this latest adventure to date featuring detective Isaac Bell.
Set approximately in 1910, the story follows the exploits of a fearsome undercover agent for the German Imperial Army, who longs to get his hands on a special device being carried by steamship from England to the USA. The agent is known as the Acrobat and what he wants is the newest invention by a pair of entrepreneurs named Clyde Lynds and Franz Bismark Beiderbecke, who are on board the Cunard liner Mauretania. Bell is also on board with his fiance, Marion Morgan, and he thwarts an attempt by the Acrobat to kidnap Lynds and Beiderbecke. The thing they are protecting turns out to be a new process for synchronizing sound to film, a revolution about to break into the burgeoning movie industry. The two inventors obviously need protection, which is offered by Bell and his Van Dorn Detective Agency.
They are stalked all the way to New York City, then across the country to California, then back to New York, by the end of the story. Cussler has a fast moving style of narrative, and he puts the reader into interesting scenes of cat-and-mouse and the intelligence games of detective work. Bell is a veritable dynamo in every respect, a swashbuckler with the smarts of Sherlock Holmes and the grace and honor of a gentleman. The Acrobat - General Major Christian Semmler - is a cross between 'Jaws' of James Bond fame and Rambo. The point of view switches quite often, and not in any awkward fashion; but I found myself wanting to see things more often from Semmler's viewpoint - he is an intimidating antagonist; and sometimes from the viewpoint of novice detective Pauline Grandzau, just for extra color to the adventure, or even from the perspective of the inventor Lynds. But the storyline is never lost, and the complications of the actions are never above the reader's head. We even get some chance encounters with real people from this era: a hard-nosed Thomas Edison, and an ebullient D.W. Griffith, to name two. Semmler puts up a ferocious battle for his object of desire: with war brewing, the Germans are desperate for an opportunity to start making real 'talkie' movies as a propaganda tool - to persuade the Americans to side with them in the conflict.
Personally, I have no grounds for comparison for this novel; whether it is a fine Bell mystery or a bland one, I can't say, having not read the other Bell stories. It is not exactly my cup of tea for an adventure story either. But neither can I condemn it, because it is also not an example of the offensive, vulgar, blood-dripping mainstay of more modern-era thrillers out there. It is a fairly easy read and nice escapism. One has to wonder, however, why this novel was not called The Akrobat. Oh well...
I did come across a lot of typos, an unusual thing in an otherwise pleasing presentation of hardcover publishing. And there is, for example, this (on p.157): "'Frisco's only five hours on the train." An observation from Bell as the scenery is about to change from New York to the west coast. Five hours by train from New Jersey? Or Chicago? Or Deming, New Mexico? With a few obvious slips getting past the editors, it comes to my mind that the proofreaders for G.P. Putnam's Sons may be hard put to get work with the Van Dorn agency. If it's due to fatigue from the pen of Cussler himself, all is understandable - he seems to be pumping out two novels a year recently.
Would I recommend this to other readers? By all means, go for it; you could do a lot worse. For those like me who are new to Cussler - he's written about 48 novels since 1973 - and for those wanting more recent adventures, they might want to go for one of his Dirk Pitt books (there are 21 of them), or the NUMA or Oregon series. With excellent credentials as a marine explorer, Cussler has an eye for detail but he doesn't load the reader down with them. Nearing the age of 81 and still prolific, Cussler could keep you reading for many years to come.