The plot centers around a clever bank robber who murders all witnesses in the target bank, earning him the nickname Butcher Bandit. The crimes take place mostly in small western mining towns on the very day a large payroll lies in the vault. His escapes bewilder local authorities; he seems to vanish without a trace.
Issac Bell and the Van Dorn agency are called in to solve the case. Bell is independently wealthy, heir to a Boston banking dynasty, who foregoes the banking business to instead chase criminals for Joseph Van Dorn’s agency. Working from the Denver office, he assembles a small team of detectives and sends them off to the affected towns to scour for any information that may help. They gather a few sparse clues that eventually lead them to San Francisco, drawing them tantalizingly close to their villain.
The Chase contains many enjoyable historical details about towns in the West, the railroads, and the raunchy lifestyle of San Francisco. A few historical characters make cameo appearances, such as author Jack London. And, of course, the climax coincides with San Francisco’s 1906 earthquake.
The book begins and ends in April 1950, where a salvage crew attempts to raise a submerged train from Flathead Lake, Montana. As the 1906 plot unfolds, the reader is drawn closer and closer to the event in Montana that results in the sunken train.
The plot is excellent, pulling the reader forward from chapter to chapter. However, the writing itself is somewhat crude, especially Cussler’s annoying overuse of adverbs with dialog tags. Phrases like “she said sincerely” or “he said pessimistically” litter the pages by the dozens and dozens. Also, I found several obvious errors, such as using the wrong person’s name on dialog tags or in narration, leading me to believe this book was never professionally edited before publication. These flaws aside, The Chase is a good read for a lazy weekend.