Ranging from Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl to a Mediterranean cauldron of conspiracies, Newton (Start Shooting, 2012, etc.) leaves noir behind to go into grand-scale Michener-mode.
Amid the Great Depression, while the family farm blows away in the Dust Bowl, Eddie Owen earns a University of Oklahoma petroleum engineering degree and a reputation as a savant. A former professor calls, one who’s built an oil company on Eddie’s theory: cracking petroleum to make 110 octane aviation gas. Unrest in Europe means war's looming, so Eddie's dispatched to modify a Bahrain refinery, and that catches the attention of the Nazis and Brits who need fuel for their Messerschmitts and Spitfires. A Giant-size love story awaits. Sabra Hassouneh, a Palestinian professor’s daughter, has endured gang-rape and refugee-camp starvation to become Minchar al Gorab, the Raven, a feared guerrilla fighter pursued by Brits and Zionists. Within this "cauldron of hate, mistrust, and murder," Eddie converts refineries in Bahrain, Haifa, and Tenerife. Meanwhile, Sabra fights British marines and Pan-Arab Army of God mullahs before carrying her cause to Tenerife. With Eddie politically naïve and worried mostly about his family's welfare and Sabra driven by the idea of freedom for Palestine, they might not make an obvious couple, but they are striking characters, and their growing love is powerfully sketched. Secondary players, however, are from central casting, like Göring’s man Erich Schroeder, a suave sociopath intent on co-opting Eddie and his magic cracking talents. Incorporating sufficient plot threads to weave an Arab kaffiyeh—including an FDR assassination plot—Newton turns Standard Oil, IG Farbing, anti-Semitic Henry Ford, and international bankers into fascist co-conspirators—"The politics of oil and war was a cesspool"—all working to keep Eddie from saving Sabra and then escaping to the U.S. carrying blueprints proving Hitler plans death camps.
A Texas-size epic—think Wouk’s Winds of War—with an amorphous conclusion perhaps portending a sequel.