The smartest shamus on earth tracks the planet’s cleverest lowlife in the latest to roll from the Cussler assembly line (Polar Shift, 2005, etc.).
In 1906, they didn’t come any nastier than the Butcher Bandit, who, when the book opens, has already racked up 38 kills, a goodly number of them women and children. He robs banks, murdering—remorselessly—any unfortunate who happens to be on the premises at the time. So adept at the work is he, we’re told exhaustively, that he’s commonly believed to be uncatchable. Which is why Isaac (“He always gets his man”) Bell of the Van Dorn Detective Agency is assigned the case. But the Butcher Bandit is a slippery one indeed. Not only brilliant, audacious and cold-blooded beyond measure, he is also not the stuff of which bottom-feeders are usually made. For it turns out that the master criminal who has robbed banks all over the Southwest is actually a bank president himself. In San Francisco, the extremely solvent Cromwell Bank is a byword for respectability, its founder and chief executive a pillar of the community. That would be Jacob Cromwell, aka the much sought after Butcher Bandit. So how to explain Cromwell’s deep, dark plunge into criminality? He loves the challenge, he says. There’s also that new word, Bell explains to an understandably puzzled colleague, that psychology professionals are beginning to use: sociopath. At any rate, the game’s afoot, the antagonists perfectly matched, with Cromwell convinced he can rob, kill and elude capture, and Bell promising not to rest “until I capture the man responsible for these hideous crimes.”
Thin characters, fat plot-holes, sluggish pacing and Cussler’s signature clunky prose.