Here at the Writer’s Bloc, we don’t normally review fiction, preferring to be oh-so-choosy. There’s a lot of fiction out there, and not so much of it is, well, good.
Boy, are we glad Ted Bell’s new novel, “Patriot,” crossed our desk. Really glad. Bell delivers another terrific effort, which seems not so much an effort for a writer of his talent. He gives us a character that remains memorable, long after you put the book down.
The British MI6 agent (at least as sophisticated and competent as 007) learns of CIA operatives around the world dropping like flies. Someone is killing them, and it’s Hawke’s job to not only find the killer(s), but to also thwart the European power grab of none other than Vladimir Putin!
Bell’s masterful portrayal of Hawke drives this story, but it is also his plot elements and realistic dialogue that capture a classic flavor in spy novels. Consider “Patriot’s” opening lines:
The sixth-richest man in England ducked his head.
Pure instinct, it was. A tight formation of four Russian MiG 35s suddenly came screaming out of the blinding sun, thundering directly over Lord Alexander Hawke’s Royal Navy watch cap. Silver wings flashing, thrusters howling, the fighter jets quickly shed altitude and skimmed over his position, their squat air brakes down for landing.
So begins Bell’s careening caper, which frankly is as good as anything Clancy or Fleming produced.
In “Patriot,” Hawke is faced with the same intrigue Bond or other famous characters have set before them, but Bell’s skill at shaping the British crime fighter sets him apart. There’s also plenty of rollicking good humor, as when Lady Mars quizzes her husband, the chief inspector, about Putin’s intentions:
His wife put her hand on his weary shoulder and said, “And how was our Mr. Putin behaving himself this time? Did he take his shirt off and strut about for you and his lordship? Full of the usual blood and thunder?”
This reference to Putin’s manliness gives the novel a thoroughly contemporary feel, while at the same time providing a setting that very much is at home in the classic spy novels. In another place, Putin is described as “eating countries like popcorn.” And Hawke’s devilishly clever charm doesn’t hurt, either. In fact, as he chases killers across the globe, one actually begins to believe the story could be true.
Bell also creates memorable supporting characters, such as Hawke’s butler, Pelham Grenville. The 80-year-old is part Alfred from “Batman,” and the rest Sir John Gielgud.
Bell’s background as the former writer-in-residence at Cambridge University serves him well, yet the earthiness with which he writes reveals a mind that is at home in elegant settings as well as, shall we say, Alex Hawke settings.
And in today’s topsy-turvy world, is it so far-fetched that “black-uniformed” Russian storm troopers could be wreaking havoc in south Miami? What Bell manages to pull off with aplomb is to set stages that, while surreal a generation ago, are now almost expected, given the world Barack Obama has left us with. The chases across Florida alone make “Patriot” a heart-stopping show.
Consider this New York Times headline that appears in “Patriot”:
U.S. INVADES CUBA, PUTIN SENDS TROOPS AND TANKS INTO ESTONIA, POLAND
It’s a plot Jack Kennedy could have enjoyed, as he battled his own, real Russian fiends.
Do yourself a favor, especially if you or a loved one favors fast-paced, sophisticated spy thrillers: run out and get a copy of Ted Bell’s “Patriot.” You’re sure to have a Walter Mitty moment or two as you do.
“Patriot” is that good.