In reading terms, I owe a lot to Clive Cussler. Aged 13, a gift of his “Deep Six” from an indulgent aunt transformed my reading world from the children’s section of Aberdeen library to one where more ‘grown up’ adventures took place. The conversion was rapid, and like many new to a faith, my dedication to thriller writing became utterly zealous, seeking out Cussler, then Craig Thomas, and a succession of others. This was fed on my return to Dublin by the seeming endless selection offered by Dalkey’s Exchange bookshop – an alladin’s cave of cheap paperbacks which, I am happy to say, seems still to be in existence.
Cussler remained a favourite. Dirk Pitt was a hero worthy of the title, and the plots, merging pseudo history with genuinely exciting set pieces, never disappointed. Amidst this sea of ‘literature’, Justin Scott came on the scene. His “The Man who Loved the Normandie” and “A Pride of Kings” were memorable adventures that still would warrant a read today. Unlike Cussler, Scott seemed to vanish from the scene, lamented somewhat, because there really was something engaging about his writing.
Since those heady reading days in the 1980s, Cussler has faded a bit. I still buy at least some of his books and enjoy them, but I see now that they’re not literature, and in expanding beyond the Dirk Pitt universe, into an array of co-written franchises, a certain amount of the real appeal to his output has gone. The first of the Isaac Bell books, 2007’s “The Chase” was one of the better offshoots, the early 20th century setting, the suitably outlandish plot, and the backdrop of the San Francisco earthquake all served to work well together, and made for a good, in undemanding read.
Coming across the second of the Isaac Bell books, and discovering its co-author has thus been a genuinely pleasurable experience. “The Wrecker” still isn’t high literature, in fact it’s very silly, but that’s not the point. It’s an atmospheric adventure with a rich setting (predominantly the railroads of the American West) and a likeable cast of characters.
Despite the fact that there's a lot of predictability to the book, and that the identity of the wrecker is revealed comparatively early in the plot, which removes a degree of tension from the business, there's a nice cleverness to the novel. Most enjoyably there's a nod towards Justin Scott's own novels, with a reference to Lt Ash giving Bell a refresher lesson in fencing – a pleasing nod towards “A Pride of Kings” and one which I hope leads to greater convergence between the Van Dorn and Scott's Ash universe.
“The Wrecker” is much akin to its predecessor, “The Chase”, in that it's an entertaining romp that ultimately isn't about to change your world, but you know what? The world's still a better place with books like this in it. “The Wrecker” brought me back to the time when I loved Cussler's books, and that can't be wrong.