Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews



The Chase by Clive Cussler




(Mildly Recommended)




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In respite to himself and his readers, Clive Cussler took a pause from the Dirk Pitt and Kurt Austin series, and wrote The Chase. Set in 1906, the action takes place in San Francisco and other parts Western. Following a series of bank robberies, the government hires Isaac Bell of the Van Dorn detective agency to find the culprit, whom the press has labeled the Butcher Bandit, as a reference to his signature: the murder of everyone in the bank at the time of his robbery. Bell is in the tradition of other Cussler heroes: competent, successful, and tenacious. Also true to form, Cussler finds some vehicles to call to the attention of readers: in The Chase, they are trains, motorcycles and race cars. Here’s an excerpt, from the end of Chapter 3, pp. 32-34:


Wilkins stood, horrified, staring down at the spreading pool of blood around Fred's head. He looked at the smoldering towel where the bullet had passed through, well knowing it was unlikely that any­one in the building had heard the gunshot. As if in a trance, he walked to the safe and began turning the combination lock to the required numbers. After half a minute, he pulled down on the latch and the massive steel door swung open.

"Take it and be damned!" he hissed.

The robber merely smiled and shot Wilkins in the temple. The bank manager had barely struck the floor when the robber strode quickly to the front door, slammed it shut, hung a CLOSED sign in the window, and pulled down the shades. Then he methodically cleaned out the safe of all bills, transferring them into a laundry bag he carried tied around his waist under his shirt. When the sack was filled until it bulged in every seam, he stuffed the remaining bills in his pant pockets and boots. The safe cleaned of all money, the rob­ber stared briefly at the gold and silver coins inside and took just one gold souvenir.

There was a heavy iron rear door to the bank that opened onto a narrow street. The robber unlocked the door's inside latch, cracked the door open, and scanned the street. It was lined on the opposite side with residential houses.

A group of young boys were playing baseball a block from the bank. Not good. This was entirely unexpected by the robber. In his many hours of observing the streets around the Cook Bank, this was the first time he had found children playing in the street behind the bank. He was on a time schedule and had to reach the railyard and his secret boxcar in twelve minutes. Shouldering the bag so his face was shielded on the right side, he walked around the ball game in progress and continued up the street, where he ducked into an alley.

For the most part, the boys ignored him. Only one stared at the poorly dressed man toting a big sack over his right shoulder. What struck the boy as odd was that the man wore a Mexican sombrero, a style that was seldom seen around Rhyolite. Most men in town wore fedoras, derbies, or miner's caps. There was also something else about the raggedy man . . . Then another boy yelled, and the boy turned back to the game, barely in time to catch a pop fly.

The robber tied the sack around his shoulders so that it hung on his back. The bicycle he'd parked earlier behind a dentist's office was sitting there behind a barrel that had been placed to catch runoff water from the building's drainpipe. He mounted the seat and began pedaling along Armagosa Street, past the red-light district, until he came to the railyard.

A brakeman was walking along the track toward the caboose at the end of the train. The robber couldn't believe his bad luck. Despite his meticulous planning, fate had dealt him a bad hand. Unlike with his other robberies and murders, this time he had been noticed by a stu­pid young boy. And now this brakeman. Never had he encountered so many eyes that might have observed him during his escape. There was nothing he could do but see it through.

Luckily, the brakeman did not look in the robber's direction. He was going from car to car checking the grease in the axle boxes of the trucks and wheels the boxcars rode on. If the brass sleeve that rotated inside the box did not receive enough lubricant, the friction would heat the end of the axle to a dangerous level. The weight of the car could break the axle off and cause a disastrous crash.

As the robber cycled past, the brakeman did not bother to look up. He instead went about his business, trying to complete his inspection before the train departed for Tonopah and then on to Sacramento.

Already, the engineer was looking at his gauges to make sure he had enough steam to move the heavy train. The robber hoped the brake­man would not turn back and witness him entering his private box­car. Quickly, he unlocked and slid open the door. He threw the bicycle inside and then climbed a small ladder up to the door, dragging the heavy money sack over the threshold.

Once inside the boxcar, the robber peered down the length of the train. The brakeman was climbing aboard the caboose, which housed the train crew. There was no sign he'd witnessed the robber enter the boxcar.

Secure inside his palatial car, the robber relaxed and read a copy of the Rhyolite Herald. He could not help but wonder what the paper would print the following day about the bank robbery and the killing of its manager and teller. Again, as he had so many times earlier, he felt no remorse. The deaths never entered his mind again.

Later, besides the mystery of how the robber/killer had escaped without a trace, the other puzzle was the wagon found outside of town on the road toward Bullfrog. The wagon was empty and ap­peared to have been driven by a dummy. The posse that chased it down was mystified.

Sheriff Josh Miller did put two and two together, but his speculation went nowhere. Nothing made sense. The desperado left no clues.

The robbery and murders in Rhyolite became another enigma that went unsolved.


While there’s a predictability in every Cussler novel that can satisfy and annoy readers at the same time, the momentum of The Chase and the introduction of new characters brought new reading pleasure.


Steve Hopkins, December 20, 2007



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the January 2008 issue of Executive Times


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