Dragonfire (Alexander Hawke #11), by Ted Bell

Eight stars

Settling in for another great Ted Bell thriller, the reader can expect much from Lord Alex Hawke and those around him. Bell creates a strong story and stellar characters that push this exciting adventure to new heights well into this series. When Lord Alex Hawke is called away from a dinner party to attend an issue back at his manor in Bermuda, he encounters a sword-wielding man who has been sent to kill him. While refusing his ultimate mission, the killer does leave Alex with a serious injury, forcing the gentleman spy tp convalesce in hospital. While he is in a coma, news comes that the Queen’s grandson has gone missing and Her Majesty refuses to allow anyone to investigate, save Lord Hawke. After he is healthy enough to leave the hospital, Hawke is told of the mission and agrees to scope things out at a resort in the Bahamas, the last place the scandalous prince was seen. In a parallel narrative, it is 1941 and the Japanese have just struck at Pearl Harbor. Tiger Tang arrives in Washington as the new Chinese Ambassador, ready to work with FDR on a joint effort to focus wartime attention on their mutual enemy. Tang may be a young playboy, but he has been called the ‘good egg’ of his well-known Chinese crime family. While Tang seeks to solidify the Chinese presence in Washington, he receives a disturbing message from home about a mission he should complete to ‘right the political discrepancy’. A somewhat interesting tertiary narrative sees Horatio Black ‘Blackie’ Hawke—grandfather to the present-day Lord Hawke—spend some time in Washington, where he rubs elbows with Ambassador Tang, before being called to London to help the British with the Nazis. Blackie works alongside Ian Fleming to sneak into Germany and try to derail the Nazi’s efforts as they build their strength. Returning to the modern Bahamas, Hawke and his compatriots arrive at the Dragonfire nightclub, the last known location of the prince. It also happens to be owned by the Tang Brothers, ruthless criminals in their own rights and grandsons of the aforementioned ambassador. While Hawke begins his search, he stumbles upon something even more troubling, something that will make a royal kidnapping seem like child’s play and will surely cause massive ripples on the international front. While Hawke knows that he must blow the lid off what he’s discovered, he must be careful or he may find himself in the middle of World War Three, with no way to save himself. A gripping tale that takes series fans deeper into the backstory of the Hawke family and shows that Lord Hawke is nothing if not resourceful. Recommended to series fans who need more Hawke, as well as those who enjoy a thorough and complex spy thriller.

I’ve spent years following and reading the entire Alex Hawke collection of novels, which seem to get better the more Ted Bell invests in their development. They may have a degree of fancifullness, but they are gripping and quite well constructed if one peels back the frills that Bell uses as a humorous offshoot of the central plot. Lord Alex Hawke remains the central character and appears to be embodying the modern James Bond. He has a man’s man mentality, able to slay any foe with little concern, while wooing the ladies with those deep, blue eyes. Hawke does have an emotional side, which is revealed at various points throughout the book and some quasi-backstory comes to the surface, if not a general familial one with the introduction of Blackey Hawke and the sub-plot that weaves its way throughout the novel. There are a number of returning characters, as well as some new faces, to entertain the reader. This mix of perspectives offers an interesting flavouring to the narrative and adds depth where Bell needs it to accentuate piece. The reader will have to pay close attention, as the names are numerous and how they fit into the larger story may become confusing to the uninitiated. The story itself was quite busy, with a number of storylines building off one another (and sometimes standing alone). While Bell has a great deal going on, much of it is necessary to understand the central story, though it takes a while to get there. Bell has a wonderful way of telling his stories and keeps the reader in the middle of the action, stopping only to offer some humour to cut the tension. There does not seem to be any clean ending to the series, though Bell seems always able to surprise me with new and time-relatable plots. I cannot wait to see what else Alex Hawke will do and how he continue to juggle his ever-growing list of female admirers.

If I may add something as an aside. As I listened to the audiobooks for this series, the switch from John Shea to Simon Vance threw me for a loop in this piece. Shea is THE voice of Bell’s books for me and has developed a great set of personalities that I have come to expect. Vance did well with this piece, but there were some things that I missed. Perhaps the swap out was for complex accents or availability, but audiobook series fans will have to take this into account when they delve into this eleventh novel.

Kudos, Mr. Bell, for another great book. I love my regular Hawke stories and hope you will keep them coming for years to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons