For years, Clive Cussler has been about as close to a sure-thing as you can get in the publishing world. On several occasions I’ve purchased his books without having any clue what they were about–trusting solely the name on the cover. There’s only a few authors with that kind of credibility in this genre–Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Brad Meltzer, and C.J. Box being some of the others.
Of course, these days Mr. Cussler is applying the James Patterson and Tom Clancy approach, using co-authors to treat his fans to multiple titles each year, spanning across several different franchises that bear his name.
The Gangster is the ninth novel in Cussler’s Isaac Bell series, and is co-authored with Justin Scott, who has helped write all but one of the books in the series so far. It follows last year’s The Assassin, which reached #5 on the New York Times bestselling list. However, if you’re new to the series, each novel is written as a standalone story, allowing readers to jump in at any point.
Full disclosure, I really wanted to like this book. Unfortunately, I think it fell flat because it tried to do too much. Had this been one of those books I grabbed just because of Cussler’s name, not knowing anything about the story, it would have been the last time I let myself do that.
The date is 1906, and New York is being overrun by a criminal enterprise that call themselves the Black Hand. Businesses and individuals alike are being terrorized by the crime group, who start out with heinous acts like kidnapping, extortion, and strong-arming businessmen, but eventually turn to murdering people who stand in their way.
A group of victims decide they’ve had enough, and they hire Detective Issac Bell from the Van Dorn Detective Agency to help them out. Bell sets out looking for clues, trying to find out who the group’s leader is, and to stop the crime wave before more people are affected.
What Isaac eventually realizes is that there is a pattern to the Black Hand’s murders, with each new victim seemingly more high-profile and important than the last. From there, he uncovers a plot to assassinate President Teddy Roosevelt–all because of a conspiracy that involves someone illegally profiting from the Panama Canal Treaty, who wants that dirty little secret to remain hidden.
The problem with this book is that there’s just too much going on, and it’s about forty pages too long. There is little character development, other than the bad guy, giving the reader few reasons to root for the protagonist unless they’re longtime fans of the character and already invested in the series.
Antonio Bronco is a strong villain. The guy lives his life pretending to be a regular businessman, when in reality he’s shady, ruthless, and cunning beyond all get-out. He’s a gangster who graduated from hustling and running shakedowns to being a cold-blooded murderer. For being a bad guy, I liked him a great deal. In fact, he was my favorite part of The Gangster, and the only reason I kept reading when the story bogged down near the middle of the book.
Cussler and Scott did do a wonderful job at placing the reader in the 1900s, painting a great image with accurate visual descriptions. I felt like I was there, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to stay.
This certainly won’t be my last Cussler novel, and I’m anxious to give him another chance in the future. I enjoyed last year’s The Assassin, but I didn’t feel like The Gangster lived up to the standard that Cussler has spoiled readers with for several decades.
Authors: Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
Pages: 387 (Hardcover)
Release Date: March 1, 2016