Broken Promises, by Nick Nichols

Six stars

After having this book recommended to me, I thought I would delve deeper into the legal mind of Nick Nichols. Having previously read one of his short stories, I was sure this would be a great legal drama, sharp and succinct as the reader holds on for dear life. Jack Adams is an Atlanta divorce attorney climbing the ranks of his firm in hopes of making partner by thirty-five. When two important cases fall on his desk, he can all but see the partnership solidified. One case proves challenging, with a woman bound and determined to take her husband to the cleaners for his adulterous ways. The other proves even more mind-boggling and Adams finds himself unsure how to react to the advances made by his client. What begins as simple flirtation soon turns into full-fledged scandal, as Adams is drawn into his client’s web. Learning her true intentions, Adams still finds himself violating ethical boundaries, which could cost him everything. A Bar suspension, a job in jeopardy, and personal ruin begin the downward spiral for Jack Adams, and yet this is not rock bottom. When something happens to his client, all eyes turn to Adams, though he professes that he is not involved. What follows might be the fight for his life, legal and otherwise. A interesting premise for a legal thriller that, unfortunately, does not past muster with this jury of one.

While others have offered much praise for this novel, I felt that Nichols missed the mark. He had all the essential tools in his quiver, but repeatedly fell short. The cast of characters was well constructed and varied, as were their backgrounds. This permitted the story to move forward, albeit limping on certain occasions. The premise was strong and Nichols did succeed in making divorce law something more than a mundane mud-slinging affair (no pun intended), but the way by which the narrative developed and presented the ‘spiral into disarray’ started a process of skimming the water, as if Nichols had much he wanted to address but someone was demanding the manuscript quickly. He rushed through the latter portion of the story and offered only the most superficial of courtroom or legal stories, where I could see much opportunity for dramatic flare. Tepid at best, I am left to wonder if an editor slashed and gutted the essential aspects to his work, as I have seen writing and a narrative exponentially better in his aforementioned short story. Perhaps a switch elsewhere will garner him better results (at least from me), if he is given the chance to flourish with another project.

A decent novel, Mr. Nichols that simply did not get deep enough or explore all the avenues at your disposal. Worry not, we all stumble at times. It is picking one’s self up again that separates the truly great authors from those destined for sub-par status. 

Taking the Titanic: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Scott Slaven

Five stars

In their first BookShot partnership, James Patterson and Scott Slaven use the voyage of the Titanic as the backdrop to their tale. As people of all classes and backgrounds prepare for the Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1912, there were a few aboard who saw it is as opportunity to line their pockets. After leaving port en route to New York, Nigel Bowen (or a man choosing the pseudonym to cover his sordid past in England) lures the unsuspecting to gambling away large sums at the poker table, bleeding them dry after playing the role of inept card player. Meanwhile, a young woman who is just as much of a con agrees to a ‘marriage’ aboard and takes the name Celia Bowen, which allows her to use her nimble fingers to steal from the women on board, which harbouring a secret of her own back in England. While Nigel and Celia make quite a name for themselves on board, fighting and becoming the buzz on every deck, there is another heist in the making. All this while the boat strikes an iceberg. Before long the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic is taking on water and descending into the Atlantic. Readers will know of the scramble to board lifeboats, which is not lost in this narrative. Will Nigel and Celia be able to turn away from their scandalous pasts and work together? A lacklustre story that is not horrid, but surely goes to show that not all BookShots are equal in their levels of excitement.

Patterson’s BookShots idea has been working for close to a year now and his introduction of a number of authors has the potential to create new and exciting options. Slaven is new to the partnership scene and is sure to have tried to use the Patterson name to catapult him to success. While the story has some decent characters and a plot that is not awful in its development, there is too much history with the setting to effectively tell the story that Patterson and Slaven had in their minds. Much like the attempt of Leo DiCaprio to ruin the maiden voyage of the Titanic in that cinematic hot mess, this short story does little to respect the foundations set with sinking of the Titanic over one hundred years ago. Perhaps Slaven will return again and redeem himself, for it would be a pity to see him fail as he attached himself to the seemingly unsinkable world-famous author.
Decent work, Messrs. Patterson and Slaven, but it was not the best piece for me. I can only hope this was a partnership anomaly and that the next collaboration has more pizzazz. 

Cross the Line (Alex Cross #24, but should be #23.25), by James Patterson

Five stars

Patterson returns with another Alex Cross thriller, leaving series fans curious what is to come, especially after the high-impact ending of the previous story, a BookShot. As if nothing had happened at all, the story opens with Cross investigating an apparent case of road rage, a man shot and killed in his car. However, just as Cross is getting a handle on the situation, a call comes in, reporting an officer has been shot. Rushing to the scene, Alex realises that this is not only his former boss, the Chief of Detectives, but the mentor of his wife, Bree. The killer is out there, but no one is at the helm to guide detectives, until Bree is chosen for this illustrious job, now boss to the famed Dr. Alex Cross. While Bree is to wear multiple hats, she makes a decision on the killing to appease the brass, ignoring the instincts of her own husband. This puts a significant strain on the relationship and tears the Homicide Division in two, just at the time when unity is essential. A drug lab is attacked and many of those inside are left for dead, an apparent act by a group of vigilantes, which has Cross on high-alert. With no firm list of suspects and fluid motives, Cross must pound pavement and ask the right questions before more acts of retribution take place, while still letting the killing of the former Chief of Ds percolate in his mind. When more apparent acts of road age occur, Cross sees a pattern; expensive vehicles and people admitting they may have been skirting traffic laws. Could these killings be fuelled by someone who wants to enforce the laws of the road when no one else will? Pulled in many directions, Cross soon learns that the vigilante movement is stronger than he first thought and that there is a plan to deliver justice on a large scale, with Metro DC in the crosshairs. With all that is going on, one would think that Cross could not focus on his family, but a few issues on the home front force him to take a closer look and reinvent the foundation of the Cross family. An interesting premise for Alex Cross, though delivery seemed slightly strained for me.
I have long been a fan of the Alex Cross series, the only one that James Patterson has kept for himself. While I lamented some of his joint writing ventures, I could always rely on this series to deliver a punch. Perhaps that time has ended, for I felt this novel did not offer the excitement I had hoped. While Cross and the strong supporting cast continue to develop with their backstories, the cases are not pulling me in. Patterson litters the plot with a few cases and has the reader juggling them to keep things straight. Perhaps the best part of the story involves the personal strains in the Cross home, though I will not speak to these, leaving the reader to discover them peppered within the pages of this story. While there was nothing wrong, per se, with Patterson’s work, I could not find myself attaching or feeling any sort of compelling reason to read “just a little more”, as Patterson has always been able to do. Perhaps my mindset, but also likely that Patterson churns out so much that the quality has taken second place to quantity. I must address one thing that I pointed out in the opening, something that I know many series fans have been hoping to better understand. In the BookShot released earlier this year (Cross Kill, Alex Cross #23.5), there was an ending that offered a wonderful cliffhanger. I know many people commented on various sites about how Patterson might have to get the popular character out of the predicament in order to fuel a full-length novel. Without revealing too much, it was only when I opened the first few chapters of said BookShot after completing this novel that I realised that this novel (#24) is actually supposed to PRECEDE the BookShot. Call it poor labelling by the publisher or blame Patterson for not regulating things, the reader is still left to suffer. So now, series fans must wait to see if Patterson addresses things in a timely fashion or if we are to be considered dunces and expected to forget all that happened. Much like a bad season of Dallas in the 1980s. Interesting… but unfortunately baffling all the same.

Interesting work, Mr. Patterson, though I cannot praise you. Perhaps others will and I will give this another read down the road. While your BookShots are entertaining and your countless other series seem to churn out pieces, could it be time to halt the train containing your riches and focus on well-crafted books?

The Whistler, by John Grisham

Seven stars

In his latest novel, garnering many mixed reviews, Grisham seeks to offer readers yet another angle of the law in thriller format. Lacy Stoltz is gainfully employed with the Florida Bureau of Judicial Conduct, a branch of the state government tasked with keeping those who occupy the bench from stepping too far out of line. When Lacy and her partner, Hugo, meet with Greg Myers, he lets them know that he is acting as an intermediary for someone who has significant information on a corrupt judge, one Claudia McDover. Myers explains that McDover is apparently mixed up with a collection of men who call themselves the Coast Mafia, all of whom have pushed forward the building and maintenance of a casino, The Treasure Key, on tribal land belonging to the Tappacola. McDover and others have been receiving significant payments, contravening numerous laws. McDover is accused not only of ensuring that the casino moved forward, but oversaw a fabricated murder trial of one Junior Mace, a member of the tribe and strong advocate against the casino. With Mace out of the way, opposition by a segment of the Tappacola dissolved, paving the way for its construction and continued prosperity. With Treasure Key significantly in the black, McDover has been further compensated with a number of condominiums, another kickback for her steering judicial decisions in a favourable direction. Digesting all this, Lacy must await a formal complaint, understanding that it will rock the system if even parts of it can be proven. Myers agrees to get the wheels in motion, but warns Lacy about one Vonn Dubose, a member of the Coast Mafia and closely tied to Her Honor. Dubose has connections to men who could make people disappear or worse, which is why the actual whistleblower (or ‘Whistler’ in the vernacular) has yet to come forward themselves. Commencing her formal investigation, Lacy and her partner head to the tribal lands and begin asking questions about the casino and the trial of Junior Mace, who was convicted of killing his wife and close friend in an apparent fit of rage when they were found in bed together. Lacy learns that much of the testimony at trial was flimsy and that witnesses were given a great deal of leeway. While travelling home from their investigation, Lacy and Hugo are struck by a drunk driver, killing Hugo. In a coma for a time, Lacy is incapacitated and the investigation can go nowhere, the time limit for filing slowly ticking away. When Lacy is able to recover enough she has a newfound impetus to bring McDover down and have someone charged for killing Hugo. When Myers goes missing, Lacy realises that someone will stop at nothing to ensure this investigation withers on the vine and so she presses on, soon learning the identity of the Whistler. Now she has to protect this individual if she is to bring the full force of the Bureau of Judicial Conduct down on McDover, while using the additional resources of the FBI, who have jurisdiction on tribal lands when it comes to criminal matters. When the Whistler is apparently identified during monitored phone calls, Lacy must do all in her power to protect this person before all those who have the power to bring McDover down cease to exist. However, the Coast Mafia will do anything in their power to protect their greatest asset, the casino, and the judge who made it all come true. An interesting and unique take to the legal thriller, Grisham keeps the reader wondering throughout. 

I have long enjoyed and respected John Grisham for his varied stories as they relate to the law. While I have struggled with some of his more recent novels, I think that might have something to do with the nuanced aspects of the legal world being explored, rather than diminished writing capacity on the part of the author. As always, Grisham uses a wonderful collection of characters from many walks of life to flavour his story effectively, as well as another southern locale to keep things close to home for him. What I found lacking was something I cannot place; as if the Grisham Spark was missing. The story flowed well and the narrative did not drag, but I was not captivated as I had been in earlier novels, which might have something to do with a lack of ‘David versus Goliath’ mentality that Grisham used to inject into his stories. While there was certainly a Good versus Evil theme to the book, I lacked a connection to the story that I often find when exploring the world of John Grisham. I have seen others review this book and offer similar sentiments, so I know that I am not alone. How to give insight to those who will read this before choosing to read the book, that is something with which I struggle. However, veteran Grisham fans such as myself know when something is off and won’t stand idly by chalking it up to just a poor effort. I will admit, reading the prequel to this story, ‘Witness to a Trial’, did offer some interesting insight into the capital case of Junior Mace that plays a key role in the larger complaint against Claudia McDover. I am happy I took the time to do so and found it helped in that regard. Still, one can hope that this does not become the norm, where Grisham slides into James Patterson’s mentality and rests on his laurels to make millions while churning out less than his best.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham for a good book. That je ne sais quoi seems to have been lacking, which I hope can be found by the next publication. I know your loyal fans will forgive you for it… once.

The Bourne Enigma (Jason Bourne #13), by Eric van Lustbader

Six stars

In his effort to elongate the Jason Bourne series, van Lustbader continues to steer the protagonist in ways Robert Ludlum would likely never have dreamt or possibly wanted. In this ‘lucky’ 13th instalment, Jason Bourne is approached in Frankfurt with a present from a close friend; a coin, etched with a curious rebus. Upon arriving in Moscow, Bourne sets out to attend the wedding of a close friend, General Boris Karpov, who is a high-ranking official in the country’s FSB. Before Bourne has a chance to inquire about the coin Karpov sent him, the General is garrotted outside his wedding reception. FSB officials are prepared to arrest Bourne for the murder, as he found the body, though the elusive ‘man of mystery’ asks for a short reprieve to prove that he is innocent. Embedded in the wound is a gold Star of David, one that Bourne recognises as belonging to Israeli Sara Yadin. While Bourne’s past is somewhat fuzzy, he is well aware that Yadin is a Kidon assassin using the name Rebeka, though he cannot understand what reason she might have for killing the General. While pondering this, Bourne is left to wonder if the man for whom he has been searching over the past little while, Ivan Borz, might be responsible, and if this coin could play into the murder. Finding himself headed to Cairo in search of Borz, Bourne locates Yadin, who denies being behind the killing, but does admit her Star has gone missing. They begin examining the coin in Bourne’s possession and wonder if it might hold the key to Karpov’s murder. After coming head to head with Borz, it appears they have the assassin before them, but there is something even larger afoot; something that involves The Sovereign, the respectful name of the current Russian President. Once Bourne and Yadin are able to decipher the rebus, they realise that The Sovereign has been siphoning money from a secret account to terror cells, distracting the world from his own plans of renewed imperialism. Unless Bourne can stop the money train, world leaders will expend all attention and energy to fighting the likes of ISIS while Russian forces exact brutal takeover manoeuvres in hopes of recreating a 21st century USSR. Is this one mission Bourne will have to admit is too much for him to handle? Series fans may find much excitement in van Lustbader’s latest instalment, though purists may cringe or turn away.  

A few years ago I went on a Jason Bourne binge, reading the entire collection to that point. Some may remember this venture and how I saw a significant turn away from the Ludlum Bourne when Eric van Lustbader took over. This continues and, while the stories on their own might hold the reader’s attention, I feel they are not upholding what Ludlum created. Far be it from me to lament times past or previous incarnations of characters whose entire being is embedded in a bygone era, but I simply find myself unable to be drawn in by the ‘new’ Bourne or the adventures crafted by van Lustbader. The characters in this story are varied and, in true Bourne series fashion, offer both those who fill the upper echelons of ‘good’ and evildoers. The author is able to spin backstories of both individual characters and how Jason Bourne fits onto their larger radar. While early novels were always about Bourne staying one step ahead of the law and government agencies (a la Jack Reacher), it seems he is now on more of an international spy/sleuth kick (a rougher Cotton Malone). The story weaves its way across continents and develops plots that have agencies battling one another, forcing Bourne to choose his loyalties, which could be of some interest to the dedicated reader. However, I find myself less than enthralled or captivated by this and sensed myself drifting mentally at times. Why do I keep reading whatever van Lustbader churns out when it comes to this series? Perhaps I find myself wanting to simply finish that which I have started, in honour to Robert Ludlum. Still, there comes a time when things have outlived their usefulness. Could this series be ready to end anytime soon? For the sake of purists, one can surely hope, though van Lustbader has at least one more book coming. 

Thank you for your contributions, Mr. van Lustbader. Jason Bourne has grown and developed, but perhaps his ill-fitting britches are indicative that he needs to hang up his amnesia-riddled personality and retire.

French Kiss (Detective Luc Moncrief #1): A BookShot, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Six stars

Patterson and DiLallo team up again for the first of (at least) a trilogy of BookShots involving Inspector Luc Moncrief. On loan to the NYPD from Paris, Moncrief cut his teeth in the French capital chasing down murderers and uncovering major drug crimes, though has been relegated to some clean-up work in New York. When his partner is killed while working undercover, Moncrief must deliver the news to her family and is then tasked with solving the murder. Katherine Burke, dubbed ‘K. Burke’ by Moncrief, has two years experience as a detective and is paired with him to offer some NYPD insight to this recent transfer. While investigating a high-priced prostitute angle, Moncrief is handed some more devastating news. It appears that this is not a killer seeking to scrub out hookers, but one who has Moncrief in their crosshairs, killing those close to him to offer personal grief and angst. Moncrief convinces his superior that he must return to Paris, where he will likely uncover a vendetta buried in his old case files, bringing Burke along to assist. When they arrive in Paris, Moncrief is able to show Burke a little more about the city and some of the accolades he earned while making Paris a little safer. After Burke is attacked and almost killed, Moncrief uses his French intuition and heads to one of the notorious French prisons to find the killer, or at least the man calling the shots. A tepid piece, though it did flow easily, which is key for any BookShot.

When I heard that there would be a trilogy of these short stories, I was curious, having seen some of Patterson’s past work with DiLallo and the larger BookShots collection. What could have been highly entertaining and adventurous (a la Private) turns slightly melancholy at times, as though Moncrief’s character wants the reader to feel that French laissez-faire attitude. There is a mystery and it does turn out to have ties to Moncrief, though the narrative seems less captivating than I have seen from the authors (or even BookShots) before. There could be some decent character development in the next two stories and some banter within this tale does keep the reader wondering what might transpire, but I did not feel the spark, which is essential in these short stories, where there is little time to meander. The jury’s still out and I will see what is to come in the next instalment, due out during the holiday season, before I decide if Moncrief needs to go into la poubelle!

Decent work, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo on this BookShot. As I said, I shall reserve judgment until I have seen your next BookShot.

$10,000,000 Marriage Proposal: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Hilary Liftin

Six stars

James Patterson joins forces with Hilary Liftin for this quasi-romance BookShot that remains at least somewhat digestible for the reader who does not fancy the gushy genre with Adonis-like men affixed to the cover. A billboard appears in Los Angeles, sporting the following message: “WILL YOU MARRY ME FOR $10,000,000? CREATIVE, OPEN-MINDED BUSINESSMAN WITH LIMITED TIME AND DESIRE TO PLAY THE FIELD. THIS IS A SERIOUS PROPOSAL.” The story focusses Suze Lee, Caroline Fried-Miller and Janey Ellis, exploring their individual interpretations of the proposal and roles they play upon agreeing to participate in the process. Cynical, they each bring their own flavour and perspective as the screening moves forward, none of whom are sure they have what it takes. When all is said and done, surprisingly, they end up as finalists vying for the heart (and wallet) of this mystery man, which has helped them all boost their egos, while remaining true to their own beliefs. The final process moves away from a competition and towards a heightened degree of honesty as the reader can only watch until the final ‘rose’ is handed out. Perhaps a winner for some, but I would not propose anything like this for someone looking for a thrill-filled BookShot. The only use your left hand will have is to strike your forehead repeatedly or wave to speed-up finishing the story.

Truth be told, I knew what I was getting into when I read the title of the book. I did not expect anything high-impact or thrilling, nor did I feel I would leave this book feeling uplifted or enthralled to look for more Patterson-Liftin collaborations. I needed something to bridge my time between novels and this fit the bill. The story has ‘reality show’ reeking from it and even one of the characters posits that the idea would be perfect for the small screen. The three ‘main’ characters had enough of a backstory to give them a little depth, but I was not drawn to any of them, nor was the collection of secretive antics enough to make me want to know too much about this ‘Mr. Moneybags’. The narrative was decent, though when I compare it to many of the Patterson BookShots I have read up to now, it dragged and got tiresome quickly. What started out as something full of curiosity turned into a sappy mess the further I read. By the final chapters, I think Patterson and Liftin expected the reader to have an epiphany about the importance of finding that person to love. Alas, it got too hokey for me, but, as I mentioned above, it served the purpose I knew it would going into this experience. For that, I cannot fault the writers too heavily.

Well done, Mr. Patterson and Madam Liftin for succeeding in what your sought to do. Not my kind of story, but I hope there are those out there who love this kind of thing. The entire BookShot Flame genre attracts a certain type of reader, which may be the demographic that flocks to this.

The Witnesses: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Six stars

In another of the BookShot short stories, James Patterson and Brendan DuBois craft an interesting tale that will keep the reader wondering until the closing chapters. The Sandersons have been temporarily relocated from their California home to the small community of Levittown, New York. Their neighbour is leaving nothing to chance as he sits in his wheelchair and gawks at them, spinning outrageous tales. Inside their home, the family is miserable; unable to communicate with the outside world or connect to something as rudimentary as the Information Highway. It all stems from their recent time in Tunisia, where Mr. Sanderson was on an archaeological dig as part of his ongoing scholastic work with Stanford. Was something unearthed that was best left interred? Or, could it have been Mrs. Sanderson, whose experience writing guidebooks led her to snap some photos of a meeting she was not supposed to see? No one is sure, but their security agent runs a tight ship and they are herded around like cattle. There is a hit put out on the Sandersons and a trained killer is slowly pulling together leads to find them. After a single mishap, beacons are alerted on both side of the law and it’s a rush to get to Levittown to deal with the breach. Who gets there first is anyone’s guess, but either way, the Sandersons won’t be around for any town bake sales this autumn. A decent story that glides along well enough to keep the reader entertained and turning pages.

While not my first BookShot, this was the first collaboration between Patterson and DuBois that I read. The authors take an interesting premise, a family in some form of witness protection, and spin it into something a little more enticing. The nosy elderly neighbour with a history of police work, sure that ISIS has moved in next door; the hitman sent to get rid of the target as smoothly and efficiently as possible, but who encounters some roadblocks; and the agency that vows protection covering its assets as best it knows how. While the story did flow well, I was not left with an indelible feel for any of the characters or felt compelled to crack the mystery behind the central protectee, though it was interesting to see in the end. The pace was quick enough and the varied characters offered something to keep the plot moving. Would I read another of their literary concoctions? Likely, but I am not shifting this to the top of my BookShot favourites list.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois on crafting this short story. I look forward to see what you both can do in the future, either in the BookShot world or independently.

Little Black Dress: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Emily Raymond

Six stars

Patterson continues his literary experimenting, bringing Emily Raymond along for the ride. In this BookShot, Patterson ventures outside the genres for which he is known, waltzing onto a more romance/erotica pathway. More on this concept below and my sentiments on its success. Jane Avery is living the typical a 35 year old divorcée life, at least in her eyes; a slave to her work whose social time is filled with cookies and binge watching television. When she purchases a dress, black and slinky in nature, she finds herself filled with new confidence. While the dress does not possess any magical power, per se, Avery is pulled into a level of confidence she lacked up to that point. This confidence is primarily that of no strings attached sexual encounters with men, most of whom she has never met and all of whom will not get a second chance to unzip her. Patterson and Raymond layer this concept with parachuted visits that Avery makes to her therapist, who is unknowingly fuelling her nymphomania. Avery’s confidence reaches a climactic point when she visits a sex club and finds herself drawn to a man whose intrigue matches his prowess. However, Avery is eventually left to wonder if she will be able to continue her sexual gratification of meteoric proportions on her own, without the aforementioned dress as her crutch. Definitely an interesting and unique take for Patterson fans, though those familiar with Raymond may expect this on a regular basis.

I will admit, I have no experience with Emily Raymond or anything that she may have penned. I do not dive into the “his pulsing member” genre and will not be scouring websites to sign up for newest releases anytime soon. That said, the story was effective for what it was; not too smutty and yet nowhere near as sleuth-based as James Patterson tends to be. Jane Avery sought sex and she found it until she had an epiphany, short and sweet. The story was decent, its characters helped push it along (though this genre does not seem to thrive on strong characters other than the protagonist). That Patterson would put his name to this type of story does not sully him, but it does go to show that he will slap his name on most anything to sell it, which benefits the co-author in some form. That said, I am completely unsure why Patterson cannot stick to working with authors who fit into the genres of writing for which he has been popular for a while. Alas, I am but a small-time reviewer and not some filthy rich man whose prime can sometimes be said to have sailed when he churned out fluff. I do hope he returns to the BookShot family with something a little more substantive, at least that bears his name. 

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Raymond for this story, though I think our latter author could and should have peddled this piece under her own name alone.

Patriot (Alexander Hawke #9), by Ted Bell

Seven stars

Ted Bell returns with another Alex Hawke thriller, full of espionage and political drama. When spies around the world turn up dead, Lord Alex Hawke and his partner, Ambrose Congreve, begin investigating. What looks like an old CIA vendetta may have larger implications for Hawke and his entire family, especially after an attack at his home in Bermuda and a potential honey trap by a mysterious woman who matches the description of someone seen at each of the murders. With the investigation heating up, there is a covert attempt to poison young Alexei Hawke, leaving Alex no choice but to place his son in protective custody. As Hawke approaches Russian President Putin, who is close to one of the murdered spies, the power-hungry leader shows off a new and powerful weapon that he’s recently added to his cache. Meanwhile, an American mercenary is summoned to the barren wastelands of Siberia to meet with a Russian known only as ‘Uncle Joe’, with plans to build an international fighting force to do Putin’s bidding, while offering plausible deniability to the authoritarian. Hawke soon discovers that Putin’s interests are sinister and that the weapon he was shown is at the heart of a land-grab that could see NATO countries fall and a return of the Soviet Empire, all while putting the blame on the United States. Can Hawke stop things before a new war emerges, sure to bring the West to its knees? Bell amps up the action and casts Hawke in the light of a determined saviour of freedom in this latest instalment to the series.

While not his best work, Bell has an effective means of transmitting the Alex Hawke character to his readers. While I have mentioned that the entire Hawke persona grates on my nerves at times, the story does advance well. Use of a handful of key characters, some of whom suffer mortal peril, allows the larger series story to advance, while not detracting from the novel’s impetus. Bell has a handle on the narrative and can spin numerous storylines before having them converge in a seamless manner. That he parachutes famous political figures into the middle of the story and treats them as just another character shows how relaxed he has become with his own writing, which may intrigue or annoy the reader. I remain a fan, though find myself trying not to get caught up in the minutiae as Bell seeks to create a new James Bond out of his protagonist.

Kudos, Mr. Bell for another successful novel. You capture the idea of a new Cold War effectively, in a time when other authors remain obsessed with ISIS and and cross-cultural terrorism.