Christa Faust is one of the best fiction writers working in America today. So it seemed like an interesting experiment when Charles Ardai asked her to write one of the Gabriel Hunt adventures. Ardai created the widely acclaimed Hunt series in 2009 in tribute to the pulp paperbacks that existed in mid-20th century America. The fictional Hunt relays each of his adventures to a guest author. The marriage between Faust and Hunt could not have worked out better. It is a well-worn cliché for a reviewer to say that he or she “couldn’t put the book down” or to describe it as a “real page turner.” But clichés become clichés because they start out true, and they all apply here. This is one heck of a high-octane adventure novel.
All the Hunt stories thus far have been great adventures in the classic mode. And HUNT BEYOND THE FROZEN FIRE starts out the same way. Gabe is on the steppes of Eastern Europe trying to retrieve a valuable cursed Cossack knife for the British Royal Museum. The knife and the woman who has stolen it from him are soon abducted off a moonlit street by men on white horses. Hunt follows in a Cold War-era jeep and is soon engaged in a life-and-death struggle in the dungeon of a ruined medieval castle where Russians are in the middle of conducting an arms deal with Africans.
Another day in the office for Mr. Hunt. But the point of the adventure series is to get you into the action fast and keep the action coming even faster. So the Eastern European story is just the prequel. When he returns to New York, the headquarters of the $100 million family foundation he runs with his bookish brother, he is approached by a damsel in distress. Hunt recalls, “She looked to be in her middle twenties, conservatively dressed in a dark suit and simple heels, but the body beneath the drab professional exterior was anything but drab.”
Hunt is a bit of a ladies man. He confesses early on that “No matter how far he travelled, or how much he learned, or how many extraordinary things he witnessed, he’d never be able to understand women.” As told by Faust, he is not going to get much of a positive education in the book. Indeed, this adventure will land Hunt in the tightest jam he has ever been in and seriously mess with him. And the sexiness of it goes well beyond the cover art, which makes it all the more enjoyable.
The young, non-drab lady is Velma Silver. Her problem is that her beloved father is a climate change scientist who has gone missing and is presumed dead near the South Pole. In his last radio transmission to base, Dr. Silver is heard to say, “…suddenly quite warm…I see…trees.” Then he completely disappears. Most attribute the mysterious transmission to the ravings of a dying man, but Velma is convinced he might still be alive and wants Hunt’s help in finding him.
Now, Hunt is nothing but a knight errant, especially if it involves the possibility of scoring with a beautiful woman. So he agrees to undertake a mission to “the last real uncharted wilderness on earth” where life itself is a constant life-and-death challenge 22 degrees below zero.
Hunt brings along his trusty Colt Pistol, but Faust downplays the gunplay here. Instead she teams Hunt with some allies who provide warmth and humor. Rue, a master driver/mechanic, is also a former girlfriend of Hunt’s, thus adding a little tension. Faust describes her as “two hundred pounds of attitude packed into her hundred pound body.”
And then there is Maximillian Ventrose Jr., Millie to his friends. Faust describes Millie: “Three hundred pounds of solid muscle with twelve inch fists and a boxer’s profile under his faded Saints cap, he stood six foot seven barefoot and looked like he could wrestle an alligator one handed without spilling his coffee. But there was a profound, Zen-like calm about him that ran contrary to his thuggish features and massive physique.”
Faust keeps the action pulsing and displays her excellent writing ability throughout: “Consciousness came to Gabriel in stages, like a shadowy striptease.” Or at another point, she writes that the “antique propellers struggled into motion like old men getting out of bed.” From their earliest days in the pulps and monthly magazines, those Golden Days before television and the Internet leeched much of the color and mystery out of the world, adventure stories were supposed to be travelogues as much as anything else.
And Faust does this as well here and even manages to find room, as the Indiana Jones adventures always did, to work in the German Third Reich. But you care about the characters she has created, and you keep turning the pages to see what happens next.
The entire Hunt series is a wonderfully creative revitalization of an important part of America’s pulp tradition. HUNT BEYOND THE FROZEN FIRE is a terrific read, and one of the best books of 2010. I would love to see how Faust would handle another Hunt adventure, because she has a real knack for writing pulp fiction. One can only hope she will write many more books.
Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 22, 2011