It is the early years of the 20th century, air travel is in its infancy, and newspaper publisher Preston Whiteway is offering $50,000 for the first flier to cross America in less than fifty days. He is even sponsoring one of the candidates - a barnstorming woman flier named Josephine Frost - and that's where Isaac Bell comes in. Frost's violent-tempered business magnate husband, Harry, has just killed her lover and tried to kill her and now he's on the run - but Whiteway is sure he'll try again.
Reviewed on 26th November 2011
Clive Cussler's early 20th Century detective Isaac Bell returns in what has to be one of the better of his adventures. After flying ace Josephine Josephs is the victim of an attempted murder, by her husband, Isaac Bell and the Van Dorn detective agency are recruited to protect her as she attempts a cross-America air race.
The plot actually works quite well, although there are a few twists along the way that make the story so far seem a little redundant. The use of early aircraft neatly fits into the sequence of Bell stories that have already covered trains, cars and boats, and the 1900s setting sets it apart from the other series of books released under the Cussler 'brand'.
Sadly it's not all great and parts of the novel seem rough. There are mistakes in the use of the title of a British baronet which perhaps wouldn't be noticed by a US audience but really throw me out of the flow every time they crop up, and the repeated meme of having characters called Josephine Josephs and Steve Stevens feels lazy. I'm also bugged by how little growth there is for the main characters - in the first book of the series Bell changes, but since then he's been a static player and his relationships haven't moved on.
Overall though this is certainly the best of Cussler's current output and put the modern day spin-offs of his Dirk Pitt series to shame. The adversary in this story is realistic and pitted at a perfect level to provide a nemesis for the investigator. A slow start to the narrative maybe, but once it got flowing the twists did keep me interested. I had almost decided to drop future Cusslers from my reading list but this has convinced me that the old genius might be starting to peek though again.