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The Assassin: An Isaac Bell Adventure


The Assassin: An Isaac Bell Adventure

If you haven’t been spellbound by Van Dorn private detective Isaac Bell by this time, then THE ASSASSIN will make you a fan. The ability of Clive Cussler (in collaboration with Justin Scott) to fine-tune characters, set them in near-impossible situations and spin a multifaceted plot is storytelling genius. 

In 1905, the Van Dorns are hired by the government to investigate John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil for monopolistic activities. The investigation takes Bell to Kansas City, where a brawny Pete Straub and his men block his Locomobile with wagons. Straub, a Standard Oil policeman, bellows at Bell, “Go back where you came from…we’ll fire any man who talks to you and they know it.”

Bell uses both fisticuffs and an automatic pistol to clear his way forward. He heads south and west across the state line into Kansas, throttles the car and heads into the prairie. When he arrives at the Hopewell refinery, named for its owner, Spike Hopewell, Bell is impressed by the sheer size of storage tanks and capacity for refining crude oil. One of the independent wildcatters who opposed Rockefeller, Hopewell is proud of his achievement but fearful that Standard’s lawyers will snuff his effort to transport product. He seeks to construct a massive pipeline to shift the oil from his tanks to buyers at the Gulf of Mexico. Standard Oil has him tied up in court. His tanks will provide storage and processing for the other independents in Kansas, Oklahoma and parts nearby. 

Before Bell meets Hopewell and tours the refinery, Cussler explores the psyche of an assassin, a skilled marksman whose expertise is unrivaled. The killer discloses his means and method for each kill. Bell aims to talk Hopewell into testifying against Rockefeller with proof that Straub’s men destroyed railroad tracks meant to ship the oil to markets east of Kansas. Spike remains certain that he will win the fight in the courthouse, protecting himself and his friends from ruin. Facing bankruptcy five years earlier, Spike and his partner, Bill Matters, were given the opportunity to join Standard. Matters went with Rockefeller, and Hopewell headed to Kansas.

"Imaginative circumstances, compelling action, colorful characters and word pictures of early days in the American oil industry make for an outstanding thriller."

Bell’s fact-finding trip is literally blown apart when the assassin fires a calculated shot from nearly 700 yards away, killing Hopewell, with a second shot narrowly missing Bell. Trying to foil the man’s escape, Bell manages a shot with his rifle but fails. Back in the refinery, a third shot rings out. Bell is horrified to see a dynamite-rigged device attached to an oil tank explode, setting off multiple fires. The gas explosion sets the oil burning, threatening the entire operation. Cussler and Scott describe Bell’s daring bravado with minute details, bringing down a giant gasoline tank. Rivers of gasoline overcome flying embers from the burning oil, drowning them. 

The murder and havoc wreaked in Hopewell’s yard bring an onslaught of curiosity seekers, reporters and journalists to view the damage. Bell meets E.M. Hock in a tent, reporting her view of the events. Her article accuses wildcatters hired by Standard Oil of the destruction. She confronts Bell about his experience with the oil business, learning that he has read her previous essays. She differs from her father, Bill Matters, on the part Standard Oil now plays but loves him unconditionally. Traveling with her is her half-sister, Nell. Both girls are beauties who Bell finds enticing. A suffragist, Nell is the more aggressive of the two; her mantra is to pilot a balloon from which she displays advertisements for women’s “right to vote.”

The major players have been introduced, but Cussler introduces another to increase the tension. Enter John D. Rockefeller, semi-retired Chairman of Standard Oil, the magnate most in his business despise. Bell convinces Rockefeller that competitors want him killed and that he needs personal protection. During this time, three of Standard Oil’s executives are murdered. Bell now has himself a client.

Rockefeller has secrets but insists that Matters and Bell accompany him to Russia, to the Baku oil fields, on business. Matters’ two daughters accompany them on the lengthy trip --- Edna on assignment for the New York Sun, and Nellie for company. The authors use the journey as a storyteller’s paradise, complete with Persian royalty, the Russian Cossacks civil war and, of course, a near assassination. Along with former Van Dorn associates, Bell manages their escape from the fighting that threatens them. 

The subplot here is Bell’s recovery of two parts of the assassin’s rifle with hollow point ammunition. Aided by Van Dorn research and manpower, he seeks the man who has engineered the gun for the assassin. When he finds the source, a more sinister plan with enhanced capacity is uncovered. It is now a race to find and kill the assassin.

THE ASSASSIN is spellbinding, with Isaac Bell’s career racing at top speed. Imaginative circumstances, compelling action, colorful characters and word pictures of early days in the American oil industry make for an outstanding thriller.

Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on March 20, 2015

The Assassin: An Isaac Bell Adventure
by Clive Cussler and Justin Scott