All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Bootlegger – Clive Cussler

on February 28, 2014

BootleggerThe Bootlegger (Isaac Bell #7)
Clive Cussler and Justin Scott
Penguin Books AUS
2014, 448p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

It’s the 1920’s and Prohibition is in full swing in America and therefore so is rum-running and bootlegging. Isaac Bell is a detective working for the Van Dorn agency and when their boss, Joe Van Dorn is shot and critically wounded whilst chasing down a high speed rum-running vessel, Bell and the rest of the Van Dorn team take it very personally.

Isaac Bell swears he will hunt down the perpetrators, expecting it to be a gang war issue, rum-runners reasserting themselves and their turf. However when a potential witness to the shooting is executed in hospital whilst under police guard in the manner of the Russian secret police, the plot thickens considerably. These are no ordinary rum-runners.

The rum-running team are Bolshevik assassins who are in America not to run prohibited alcohol and control the flow into the major areas but to overthrow the government of the United States and destroy the capitalist system for good. Isaac Bell and the rest of the Van Dorn detectives are going to have to be everywhere, doing everything they can to gather information and try and stop them. All of them are highly skilled, concealing their identities and making sure that nothing can be traced back to them. But Bell and the rest of the Van Dorn men are good too.

The Bootlegger is the seventh Isaac Bell novel and it’s the first one in the series that I’ve read. Now I’ve done this with Clive Cussler series’ before, come in late and it hasn’t really mattered – the universe is clear and the world and story are easy to pick up. However this one wasn’t as easy. The setting is 1920’s Prohibition which is relatively straight forward but the series seems to play a bit fast and loose with time and technology. There were advancements that didn’t quite match up with the historic setting and there were a few things I wasn’t too sure about. However I could still follow the particular story of this book, it was more the stuff on a grander scale that had me a bit lost.

Bell is much the same as other Cussler heroes – he’s handsome, he’s witty, good with machinery and a gun and likes the finer things in life. He has a ridiculously good looking wife of course who floats in and out of the story and appears totally unperturbed at everything Bell is up to. In other words she understands him and has her own important career which keeps her busy. This lack of wifely presence allows Bell to flit off all around the country investigating things and almost getting himself killed but never quite, because he’s better than his opponent every single time. Also, almost every woman he meets falls in love with him but he is of course devoted to his beautiful, understanding wife and so they must wearily accept only his friendship.

I quite enjoy novels set in the 1920’s and I’ve only read one or two others focusing on Prohibition before so all of the information about the rum-running and the bootleggers and how groups got around the banning of the importation and sale of alcohol was pretty interesting. Despite the laws, it seems as though the 20’s was a time of glitz and glamour, parties and living a lavish lifestyle – it was a very good time to be rich, but then again I suppose when isn’t? Like Sam Fargo from the Fargo Files, Isaac Bell is independently wealthy, having inherited vast amounts of money. He’s very good at what he does and the company and man he works for is highly respected. They all have very high standards and it’s obvious they are all very loyal.

More interesting was the Bolshevik connection. The Bolsheviks were founded by Vladimir Lenin and morphed into the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and it’s sort of tongue in cheek I think that the Russian comrade is supposedly amassing a fortune to overthrow the government by rum-running and controlling the flow of alcohol in many of the major areas – New York, Detroit and Florida. In other words he is using the capitalist system by creating demand and jacking up prices or flooding it and lowering it to put his competition out of business, in order to overthrow the capitalist system so that they can implement a communist one. This is the plan but it seems as though Marat Zolner, the Russian agent has become what the communist system doesn’t encourage – an individual thinker. His position in America with the rum-running gives him money and power, two things that are very hard to give up once you have them and begin to get used to them. Only one thing stands in Marat Zolner’s way of pretty much total domination of whatever he wants and that’s Isaac Bell.

The plot is fast paced and there’s plenty of action there – lots of shoot outs on boats, things blowing up and people getting beaten up, knifed, drowned and murdered in various other grisly ways. There’s plenty of snappy dialogue and some clever moments where you could almost end up sympathising with some of the Bolshevik characters. There’s some very basic talk on theory – the book doesn’t get too deep into the capitalism versus communism thing but it does touch upon deportations and a bit of the fear of it from a capitalist standpoint. It’s all very basic though and the focus is more on the action and Bell getting the job done in superb style.


Book #49 of 2014


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