Cussler and Scott (The Bootlegger, 2014, etc.) send detective Isaac Bell on his eighth historical action-adventure, this time tackling the "Octopus," otherwise known as Standard Oil.
The authors turn the time machine to 1905, giving Bell a chance to romance the beauties Edna, "deep as the ocean," and Nellie, who "dazzles like a kaleidoscope," daughters of Bill Matters, a former Oil City, Pennsylvania, wildcatter co-opted into joining up as another John D. Rockefeller minion even though he was never “one of the boys." Van Dorn Detective Agency top investigator Bell has been hired by the Sherman Anti-Trust Corporations Commission to investigate Standard Oil. But things turn deadly. Spike Hopewell, Matters’ old partner, is assassinated in a Kansas oil field. Then there’s a Texas oil patch shooting, and other supposed accidental deaths are revealed as murders. Is the monopolist Rockefeller, who prides himself on dealing "fairly and squarely and aboveboard," resorting to murder to preserve the Octopus? Confused over whether he prefers Edna or Nellie, Bell goes undercover as Rockefeller’s bodyguard and hits the road—Kansas, Texas, Washington, D.C., Russia’s Baku oil fields—and gets embroiled in shoot-'em-ups between Tatars, Armenians, Social Democrats and bank bandits. Cussler loves historical factoids: The Pennsylvania-built Baldwin decapod engine was an oil-burner rather than coal-fired; a Cleveland-built Peerless Tonneau car made as good a bribe as a Rolls-Royce; and there’s a difference between suffragette and suffragist. The usual Van Dorn detectives are useful background characters, Bell survives a balloon ride into the near-stratosphere, the psychopathic assassin gets comeuppance, and there’s a well-choreographed flaming finale at New Jersey’s Constable Hook refinery.
Another action-movie–paced entertainment from Cussler’s historical-thriller series.