Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Finally, I meet Alex Hawke

I don't know about you, but the longer an author's backlist is, the more hesitant I am to begin reading a series. One the bright side, you won't be waiting on pins and needles for a sequel, but there's a lot of territory to catch up on. I've been buying Ted Bell's Alexander Hawke thrillers since the very first one was published. Now that there are five books in this series, I've finally gotten around to reading the first one. Debut novels are often rough. I was pleasantly surprised by this one.

The novel's prologue recounts what is likely the single most traumatic experience of Alex Hawke's life--the cold-blooded murder of his parents when he was seven years old. Young Alex witnessed the whole thing, but has blocked the events from his memory. It's a terrible start on life, but Alex has a few advantages as well. He's the scion of a wealthy and influential British family. He's raised by a loving grandfather and given all the best advantages in life.

After the prologue we meet the adult Alex Hawke. In addition to being a captain of industry, he does covert jobs for the British and American governments. That's not as random as it seems. As a younger man, Alex had served with distinction in the special forces of the military. He has ties to the rich and powerful everywhere. And business interests around the globe provide the ideal cover for his presence in hot spots.

In this case, the hot spot is Cuba. Hawke is instructed to find who has bought a very dangerous submarine, but what he finds in addition is a coup d'├ętat ninety miles off the US coast. What's more, the situation has gotten very personal when the bad guys drag Hawke's girlfriend Victoria into the mix. Fortunately, Hawke has backup. Aside from the American government he's working for, he's brought his own most trusted allies. Foremost among them is Ambrose Congreve, a semi-retired Scotland Yard inspector, and Hawke's closest friend. Also, there is Stokely Jones, a former New York cop who acts as Hawke's body guard and Chief of Security. Hawke has surrounded himself with a loyal team that would go to hell and back for him. I expect we'll get to know each of them better as the series progresses.

As I mentioned above, it's a strong debut. The writing is fine and the pacing is good. The plot featured some good twists and turns, and even had a fun buried pirate treasure sub-plot. Hawke's a character you can build a series around, and while his extreme wealth and other gifts are a bit preposterous, it's kind of fun to see how the other .00001 percent lives. (Was I the only one sort of picturing Richard Branson as I read the book?) There was really only one thing I had a big problem with, and oddly enough it was one of the supporting characters. Specifically, it was Stokely Jones, who spoke all of his lines in an ignorant and affected dialect. An example, "Ain't far. See all them Christmas lights hanging in the trees on that island over there? Only a couple of miles. We could swim it, but Mr. Congreve, he old fashioned." Not only is it annoying to read, I found it somewhat insulting to a minority of which I'm not a member. I really hope it gets toned down in subsequent novels.

And I guess I'll find out, as based on this debut, I plan to move forward with the series. I'm looking forward to getting a better handle on Alex Hawke, and seeing how the supporting cast continues to develop.
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