It's 1907. Train wrecks, fires and explosions sabotage the Southern Pacific Railroad's Cascades express line. Van Dorn sends in its top investigator, Isaac Bell. Bell quickly discovers that a mysterious saboteur haunts the hobo jungles of the West. Known as The Wrecker, he recruits accomplices from among the down-and-outs to attack the railroad, killing them afterwards.
Reviewed on 2nd December 2009
The Wrecker is the second Isaac Bell book from Cussler, this time with a co-writer, as is now usual. I had really enjoyed the first Ball book - The Chase - which was the first book Cussler had written alone for some time, but at the time I had understood it to be a one off, rather than the beginning of yet another series. This series however is not a spin off from the others, and is set almost a hundred years in the past, giving it a new and interesting angle.
This novel has a similar setting as the previous - Isaac Bell and the Van Dorn Detective Agency are hired to catch 'The Wrecker' - who is sabotaging the US's fledgeling rail network for unknown reasons. In keeping with the first book, that means there are a lot of trains featured (which makes an interesting change from boats).
The problem with this book is that it's too similar to its predecessor. Bell solves the crimes using the railway, the baddie is a master criminal by night and someone that no-one would suspect by day, and there is a lot of travelling on trains. It's full of history, a lot of which is probably true, but it's American history, and specifically railway history, which is not of any great interest to the average UK reader. I also have no knowledge of trains, and find it much harder to pick up anything about the trains in the novel than normally with modern day boats. What's a "Johnson Bar" for example?
My other main gripe with this book is that, for the reader, the mystery is finished halfway through - we find out really early who the Wrecker is, and then follow Bell who is somehow completely blind to it, despite all the evidence. I would have much preferred a story where we are kept guessing until the end too.
Is it a good read? Yes, I suppose so - it has a good range of characters and its historical setting is believable. I don't think it lives up to the prequel though, and definitely not to the good old days of Cussler's writing.