Isaac Bell to the rescue

Here’s another fine example of how listening to audio books to pass the time while driving has led me to a delightful discovery, a series of books I’d happily read in the print version, under other circumstances. But since this book was both well written and a perfect candidate for a dramatic reading, I thoroughly enjoyed the listening experience.

By Linda C. Brinson

THE THIEF. By Clive Cussler and Justin Scott. An Isaac Bell Adventure. Penguin Audio. Read by Scott Brick. 8 CDs. 10 hours. $39.95

I picked up this audio book by Clive Cussler from my stack of review books, assuming I’d be listening to an adventure story about finding and raising historic shipwrecks. My younger son, now a Navy ensign, loved Clive Cussler books when he was in middle and high school.  I was in need of some light entertainment and a change of pace from more serious books.

To my surprise, as Scott Brick began his excellent reading, I found that I was not following the adventures of Dirk Pitt, intrepid discoverer of wrecked ships, pilot and all-around adventurer. Instead, I was transported back to the early days of the 20th century, when the rest of the world nervously watched the German Empire rattle sabers and prepare for what would be World War I.

In fact, the action opens aboard the Mauretania, a luxury ocean liner that plied the Atlantic before the Titanic was launched. And our hero is Isaac Bell, another intrepid adventurer, who shares various traits with Pitt: He’s handsome, popular with the ladies, brave, daring, financially well set but hard-working, smart, resourceful … you get the picture. He’s also very much in love with a woman who’s a pioneer in the fledgling motion-picture industry.

Bell works for the Van Dorn Detective Agency, attempting all the while to maintain his cover as an insurance man. After he stumbles upon a crime in progress aboard the Mauretania, he takes on a case that might involve not only his honor and a promise to a dying man, but even the fate of Western civilization

This is a rip-roaring adventure tale, full of nefarious characters, international plots, crimes, disasters and near-disasters. It takes us across the ocean and then coast-to-coast in the United States. It’s particularly well suited to an audio version because Cussler makes it easy to know and follow the many characters. When listening to some mystery/thriller books, I sorely wish I had a cast list. Of course, I might wish that even if I were reading the print versions of those books, but it’s easier to flip back through a printed book than to go back to an unknown spot on an earlier CD.

What make this book especially entertaining are Cussler’s attention to historical detail and his careful creation of his early 20th-century setting. This is a fascinating time, when Europe and the United States were on the brink of the Great War that would change so much. This book deals extensively with the early motion-picture industry, particularly the efforts to figure out a way to make “talking” pictures. Cussler’s portrayal of Thomas Edison’s heavy-handed role in the burgeoning industry is especially interesting. Edison tried to enforce all the important patents, and employed an army of thugs to protect his monopoly. Bell must deal with them even as he’s dealing with a more sinister enemy.

This book is great fun.







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