Four stars (of five)
Ted Bell is back with another Alex Hawke novella that will pave the way for his next full-length novel. During a rescue climb in the Swiss Alps, a member of the military’s alpine division comes across a severed head, free of its body or any trace of why it rests in a crevice. Enter Lord Alex Hawke, who is summoned by MI6 to investigate a series of illegal computer transactions that have jeopardised the holdings of the upper echelon of British society. Could this head, eventually identified as a prominent Swiss banker who recently returned from London, play a role in the hacking that has members of Buckingham Palace in a tizzy? Working with Scotland Yard’s Ambrose Congreve, Hawke heads to Switzerland, where he works with Baron von Stuka, ‘Wolfie’, an affable member of the country’s military who has been helping Swiss officials with the case. Speculation about who might be behind the hacks into the prominent accounts opens numerous options, but no firm leads. Hawke and Congreve agree to go undercover to crack open the case, supported by all resources Wolfie can allow. Working with a new romantic interest, young banking official Sigrid, Hawke begins looking into the mysterious disappearance of another banking officials from decades before. The Sorcerer, suspected of having fallen off a mountain while scaling it, could be hiding in one of the honeycombed area of the Swiss Alps, long-ago thought to have been sealed. As the trio investigate, they realise that Hawke must scale White Death, the only mountain in the area Hawke has failed to overcome, while Sigrid and Congreve extract information about the hackers on terra firma. Beginning his trek up the mountain, towards Murder Wall, where he lost his grandfather, Hawke is determined to find the Sorcerer and uncover the hacker before anything else goes awry. With a limited time before more hacks emerge, Hawke must rely on his oldest friend and a woman who warms his heart to track down the killer and stop the flow of illegal transactions. A great novella that opens the door to new characters and plot lines for Bell’s avid mind.
While the Hawke and Congreve characters can be somewhat pretentious as they pretend to be the modern incarnations of James Bond, Bell has been able to keep his stories chock-full of great adventure and drama. The characters are always witty and usually have far-reaching knowledge, which thickens the plot and allows for a vast array of adventure. With each novella, there is some useful tie-in to the subsequent novel, useful as a prize for those who take the time to read them. While I can likely predict what is to come, I chose not to read the teaser segment of PATRIOT, for I always let John Shea narrate the full novels for me, with his uncanny accents and presentation. Bell has a great repertoire and wonderful ideas, for which I am eternally grateful. Now, if only he could scale down a little of the hoity-toity nature…wait, that would ruin the Hawke character demonstrably.
Kudos, Mr. Bell for another great mini-instalment to the series. Keep this work coming!