1902 at the Gleason mines near Pittsburgh, Isaac Bell is on his first solo mission for the Van Dorn Detective Agency to ferret out anti-mining union activists. He is intimately involved with the explosion of a mine in which lives are lost. The act is one of sabotage perpetrated by an agent provocateur. The Union leader is arrested and imprisoned for the disaster. This is the trigger for a titanic clash between the miners and their unions with the owners. These powerful barons of the coal, steel and railroads are hell-bent on destroying the unions thus crushing strike activity, cutting miners' pay and pushing up the price of coal.
The action rapidly steps up in pace with Bell realising he is dealing with a ruthless, unscrupulous conspiracy to monopolise and consolidate the most important business industry in America i.e. coal. He forms a small squad of hardened agency detectives to find who is behind the scheme involving influential individuals, (two in particular), who use corrupt and criminal methods to achieve their goals. These include control, wealth and political ambition using the miners as fodder. All the miners want is a fair deal.
Cussler deftly develops the narrative into a continuous contest racing against time between the opposing factions. He introduces a string of characters integral to the story. The main protagonists are depicted to provide a clear understanding of their nature in the nail-biting chain of events, with subtle twists, that flow to the climactic finale. The myriad of diverse incidents in this novel interact to provide more than a battle of wits and detective work but also a struggle of life-saving proportions. The descriptions of the characters and scenes were vivid enough to provide a clear picture in my mind of the goings-on with their inherent dangers. Isaac Bell certainly comes of age.
I enjoyed this insight into Isaac Bell's formative years as a detective. Clive Cussler's writing spins a colourful yarn of intrigue and subterfuge with plenty of activity. Well worth reading.
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A prequel to the Isaac Bell series, this book shows the private investigator tackle one of his earliest cases, investigating sabotage in America's coal mines in the early twentieth century.
The style is slightly more similar to the first book of the series, though overall the book doesn't live up to that predecessor and is far from the best from the Cussler brand. The book continues the Bell series' slightly political commentary, with Bell himself seemingly possessing modern sensibilities and liberal-leaning beliefs that feel out of place in the era the stories are set.
The plot feels bitty as Bell and the other characters dart around from city to city. The scenes don't seem to flow together particularly well and a lot of the action seems disconnected and it feels almost like random luck that an overall storyline emerges at all.
I didn't find this one to be a captivating book, and generally think it reflects badly on the series that a book can be written with no believable peril or thrill.