THE STRIKER promises to thrill Isaac Bell fans with yet another action-packed tale of his exploits as a young Van Dorn Agency detective. Set in the coal-mining hills of West Virginia and Pennsylvania at the turn of the century, Cussler depicts the struggles between budding labor unions and management. Union organizers begin to see the benefits of verbal negotiations to improve wages and working conditions. But greedy owners maintain the upper hand because they control the purse strings, buy Pinkerton detective protection, and can move the product for sale.
In 1902, Isaac Bell is young and inexperienced, but bright and energetic about his business. His boss sees great promise for him in the agency, increasing his responsibilities at a rapid pace. Bell is commissioned to hunt for radical unionist saboteurs in the coal mines and goes to work there as a miner. Jim Higgins is a likable fellow, active with the unionists to talk the owners into better pay, working conditions and a reasonable work load. However, his younger sister, Mary Higgins, is a sharp contrast to his peaceable aims. She supports a miners’ strike with radical steps and violent action. Bell meets them both while pretending to work in the mine. Mary, a tall, red-haired beauty, attracts the lanky handsome Bell in an emotional manner as well as intellectual. Bell fears for her safety when she sets out to sabotage the owners’ means of marketing the coal.
"Clive Cussler and co-author Justin Scott make certain that readers will be enthralled with their story until the final word has been read.... THE STRIKER is the best Isaac Bell book to date, and one wonders if it ever can be topped."
The Van Dorn Agency is hired to hunt for radical saboteurs in the mines. Bell works deep in the mine when a loaded train of coal cars nearing the top at day’s end suddenly breaks back on the track and into the mine. Higgins races for a derailer switch to stop the cars, but before he can reach it, 20 cars hurtle backwards down the main line. Bell also sees the danger and leaps onto the swaying car to push a hand brake, but both the weight and momentum cause the chain to snap. Cars scrape the sides of the tunnel and cause a slight slowing but soon careen into the seam and crash with thunderous impact. Time is now against any miner who struggles to run upward out of the tunnel. Sparks of fire and gas could ignite the entire underground cavern, obliterating everything and everyone trapped inside. White Damp, an odorless carbon monoxide gas, would kill them in minutes if they couldn’t reach topside and fresh air in time.
Bell stumbles upon a young door boy along the tracks, yanks him to his feet and shoves him forward toward daylight. Just before the entire ceiling collapses on them, he pushes the boy through a narrow opening, bracing a timber with his back, then slithers through himself to safety. The harrowing ordeal becomes a nightmare when Pinkerton men arrest Higgins, charging him with instigating the accident. Of course, no proof exists that he was responsible. He is jailed, and lynch mobs storm the jail to hang him.
Bell enters the mine again after it is deemed safe enough to search for missing men and boys. A shackle supposedly broke to cause the accident, and Bell is determined to locate the break. Ventilators stop blowing fresh air into the tunnel. He hides a broken chain link in a crevice he plans to remember. He rushes ahead to beat the returning damp but stumbles and falls. A gleaming object looks like the missing shackle, which he tries to pick up. A shadow crosses over him, intense yellow eyes stare him down, and a fist connects with his face. When he regains consciousness, the ventilators are working and he is able to leave the tunnel. Bell is convinced that a saboteur not connected with either striking miners or greedy owners has caused the catastrophe in the mine. He vows to solve the mystery with or without Van Dorn’s blessing.
Clive Cussler and co-author Justin Scott make certain that readers will be enthralled with their story until the final word has been read. From a green-behind-the-ears young apprentice, Isaac Bell matures and emerges as the brightest detective in the Van Dorn employ. We feel his empathy with the ravaged miners, perplexed owners and detectives who try to solve the puzzle. The elder Van Dorn storms into action when he realizes that the saboteur behind the mining calamity may have trained as a detective. But Clay’s motive remains questionable, except for the notoriety. Together, Bell and Van Dorn search for a deeper, more sinister perpetrator, with the power, money and ambition to create the chaos they witness. THE STRIKER is the best Isaac Bell book to date, and one wonders if it ever can be topped.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on April 19, 2013