THE BOOTLEGGER dives back in American history to a time after World War I when the economy is getting stronger. However, Congress has passed a law making the sale of alcohol illegal, leading to a burgeoning bootlegging industry. Wealthy Americans and the working man alike will pay dearly for their liquor. In New York Harbor, former fishing boats have been altered to carry tons of bourbon, scotch, grain alcohol and the means to reduce the content for sale as the real McCoy. An entire criminal industry is thriving.
Joseph Van Dorn negotiates with the Coast Guard for a contract to aid in the capture of the rum-runners. He boards a Coast Guard cutter, riding along for observation and to prove his worth as the detective agency to hire. On patrol, the cutter sights a suspicious sleek black boat sitting low in the water. A high-speed chase begins, but ends when the boat turns toward the cutter and unleashes massive firepower. Van Dorn fires back, noting that his bullets ricochet off bullet-proof glass. A deadly salvo returns the fire, striking him with impact. A young seaman on the cutter springs to action, dragging Van Dorn to safety. The boat speeds off, leaving a bloody scene in its wake. Van Dorn is taken to the nearest hospital in critical condition.
"This is an entertaining study of the Prohibition Era in the early 1920s. What better way to study a checkered bit of our past than to enjoy a fast-paced romp through it with bold and intelligent Isaac Bell?"
Chief Detective Isaac Bell, Van Dorn’s closest friend, promises to keep their agency running and find those responsible. After discovering that several of his own detectives, working as hotel security men, have been compromised by bootleggers, he fires two men at once and vows to clean out the dirt from his agency.
Meanwhile, Bell enters the hospital room of the wounded criminal for an interview when suddenly shots ring out. The result? A fallen police guard and a dead patient. After failing to catch the shooter, Bell makes the acquaintance of a glamorous socialite who introduces herself as Fern Hawley. She has no knowledge of a running man but takes Bell’s card as a courtesy. However, Hawley will prove to be a major player in Bell’s search for the killer, his schemes and the elusive black boat.
Careful examination of the bullets that both injured Van Dorn and killed the hospitalized witness reveals Russian and German connections. Bell contacts his Berlin office chief, Pauline Grandzau, to research the ammunition, and a series of transatlantic wires between them makes for a grim confirmation: Russian Bolsheviks are involved. When Bell and his wife, Marion, meet up with Hawley at a night spot, they are introduced to her tall, lithe handsome escort, Russian Prince Andre. His profile reminds Bell of the acrobatic killer he had chased from the hospital. Hawley says she and Prince Andre met in Paris and that he intended to invest his fortune in the United States. Bell’s intuition tells him to look deeper into this man’s life. Why would Russians be involved in the sea chase?
Clive Cussler divides THE BOOTLEGGER into four sections: “Rum Row 1921,” “Hijack,” “Gangland” and “Hurricane.” Although each highlights a particular piece of the action, the plot blends all of them into a tidy ending, complete with high-speed boat chases, shootouts, hand-to-hand combat and Detective Bell at the center. This is an entertaining study of the Prohibition Era in the early 1920s. What better way to study a checkered bit of our past than to enjoy a fast-paced romp through it with bold and intelligent Isaac Bell? His ingenuity is fully tested here, but he recovers from setbacks, never taking his eyes off the goal --- putting the bootlegger out of business permanently.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on March 21, 2014