Saturday, August 18, 2007

Hawke -- Ted Bell

Recently I got the urge to read a long book, which is rare for me, and at nearly 600 pages in the Pocket Books Premium edition, Ted Bell’s debut thriller HAWKE certainly fits the bill. When I was younger and had more time to read, I plowed through many a doorstopper novel without really thinking about it. The summer between eighth and ninth grades I read all three books in the Lord of the Rings trilogy back-to-back-to-back, something I’d never attempt today. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO? GONE WITH THE WIND? No problem.

But to get back to HAWKE, I thought, well, I’ll try it, and if I don’t like it, or if it’s taking too long to read, I’ll just stop. I liked it right away, though, and had no trouble sticking with it to the end. It’s just the sort of over-the-top, swashbuckling, action-adventure/espionage novel that I enjoy. Lord Alexander Hawke is a handsome, debonair playboy/billionaire businessman/freelance secret agent who takes on dangerous assignments for the American and British governments. A lot of the reviews compare him to James Bond, but to me he seems like more of a tribute to Derek Flint and Amos Burke (for those of you with long memories), with just a touch of Austin Powers but not nearly as silly. This book involves a military coup in Cuba that replaces Fidel Castro, a giant Russian stealth submarine, and biological warfare.

But that’s not all, to quote the late-night TV pitchmen. In addition to the secret agent stuff, you also get a storyline involving murder, revenge, and hidden pirate treasure. If that’s not enough, there’s also plenty of Clancy-ish technobabble about weapons, good and evil mercenaries, some big battles, and a climactic swordfight (well, a machete fight, but that’s close) that’s a dandy. You can tell that Bell had a lot of fun writing this book, and I had a lot of fun reading it. I was interested in Bell’s work because I read his story in the THRILLER anthology and thought it was one of the best ones in that book. He didn’t disappoint me with HAWKE.

Is the book too long? Yeah, probably. But the padding isn’t too blatant and for the most part the pace clips right along. A while back I read a thriller by another big-name writer that had a pretty good plot, but all the way through it I kept thinking “Nick Carter could’ve handled this problem in a third as many pages -- or less!” That didn’t happen with HAWKE. There are three more books, so far, starring Alex Hawke, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading all of them.

One reason I’m sort of interested in books like this right now is that I recently finished writing a big international thriller (a ghost job) with lots of short chapters, a big cast, and several interconnected storylines. It’s an appealing format, although I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it as either a writer or a reader. If I can ever find the time I might try to write one of my own, one of these days.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, it's a lost love, making time for reading something really long. When my reading group read Lonesome Dove last year, it was real challenge. I remember so fondly the days of my teenage years, when nothing was more fun than lying on my bed and reading a 700 page book. The longer the better.

James Reasoner said...

A very wise man once said, "The biggest problem with writing is that it takes up too much of your reading time." All too true.

Randy Johnson said...

Sounds like an interesting book. Yes, I'm old enough to remember Flint and Amos Burke. Never cared for Austin Powers though.

Anonymous said...

I admire/envy your energy, James -- you not only read the "big jobs", you write them! I find it hard enough to produce short novels under my own pen-name.

Mark Terry said...

I've read Bell's "Spy" which has the same character, then I interviewed him for a profile--I think it was in the ITW Report. Nice man and Hawke, if I remember correctly, was something he wrote pretty much for the hell of it. I believe he'd written a pirate's book for kids and somebody suggested he try one for adults, so he did. Guess it worked out okay for him.