Review

Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear

Gabriel Hunt, as told to Charles Ardai

HUNT THROUGH THE CRADLE OF FEAR, the second installment in the
new paperback pulp adventure series featuring Gabriel Hunt,
delivers on the promise shown in the first book, HUNT AT THE WELL
OF ETERNITY, which released in April. This series for a new century
provides readers with nonstop thrills and action, along with a
fascinating story. To put it simply: it is pulp fiction at its
best, rooted firmly in the past with a nod of the fedora to Edgar
Rice Burroughs and Doc Savage, but set in the modern world.

It is a treat to witness the rebirth of the paperback adventure
series. And for that we must thank Charles Ardai, who conceived of
this series just as he did the invaluable Hard Case Crime paperback
mystery series several years back. Ardai is also the real-life
author of CRADLE OF FEAR, which was told to him by the fictional
Mr. Hunt. Read one of these works and you can see why Hunt has no
time to write his own books. To describe him as being
overcaffeinated would be an understatement.

Ardai understands that the most important rule of the classic
pulp adventure story is action. We get it from page one and it
rarely lets up for 200-plus pages, which makes this a fun book. The
story starts with Hunt cornered in the turret of a castle in
Hungary with seven armed men closing in on him. Of course, he is
not alone. Ardai writes, “’Go,’ he (Hunt) said
again, shooting a glance over his shoulder toward the stone wall
where Sheba crouched, clutching the shreds of her dress to her
chest. ‘Now!’”

Where he wants her to go is off the edge of the turret, which
overlooks a 300-foot drop. He has conveniently provided an
inch-wide metal cable that can carry one person down at an angle to
the trees below. Of course the problem for Hunt is that there is
only room for one on the cable, and he has just fired his last
bullet at his pursuers --- at least one of whom is brandishing a
rather large curved sword.

Of course, your adventure hero, be it Doc Savage or the modern
Gabriel Hunt, is indeed resourceful in tight spots. Hunt manages to
escape with the woman and bring her back to New York, where he
promptly loses her again after a battle with four armed men in an
East Side building that sounds suspiciously like the real-life
Explorers Club of New York.

It turns out that the woman is an Irish scholar on the
iconography of the ancient world. Hunt got involved after she was
abducted off the streets of Dublin. The trail leads to one Legor
Degroet, an uber-rich antiquities collector and former Olympic
silver medal winner in fencing from Hungary. Close to 70 now, he
walks with the aid of a walking stick that conceals a sword. We
also learn that he is twice as rich as Gabriel and his brother
Michael’s Hunt Foundation. And quite ruthless it turns out.
After the wildest cab ride in the history of New York City, Hunt
manages to sneak onto the plane where Sheba has been taken by
hiding in a box containing guns and ammo. When he emerges, he finds
himself in an incredible place: the Plateau of Giza.

“Immediately before them facing them in its eternal
crouch, blanketing them with its moon cast shadow was the Great
Sphinx,” Ardai tells us.

Hunt soon enough frees the girl after some incredible action
inside the belly of the Sphinx. But the larger question remains:
what does DeGroet want with the Sphinx? It is worth remembering
that while pulp novels never claimed to be more than cheap
entertainment, they served as travelogues in the years before
television and satellites. They were also a way to introduce
readers to serious subjects that they hopefully would look into on
their own.

The story in CRADLE OF FEAR quickly moves from Egypt to Greece
where Hunt finds an ancient Bard on the island of Chios. We learn
that in Greece the Sphinx --- a winged Sphinx --- played a key role
in Greek mythology. Indeed, it was the Greeks, not Egyptians, who
gave the beast with the body of the lion and head of a human its
name. In Arabic, we are informed, the Sphinx was called simply
“The Father of Fear.” Furthermore, Sphinxes can be
found throughout Asia.

Ardai is a master at keeping the battles and death-defying
escapes fresh and vivid throughout. There is a camel chase in
Egypt. In Greece, he is chased on a moped driven by a young Greek
who claims to drive “like your Steve McQueen.” And then
he takes us to a midnight meeting at the incredible Basilica
Cistern in Istanbul, Turkey, constructed in the sixth century by
The Emperor Justinian the Great.

Ardai writes, “The Turks called it Yerebatan
Sarayi,
the sunken palace. Each column was lit from below with
flame red lights, giving the place an ominous appearance. You
expected a man in a cape and domino mask to step into view at any
moment from behind one of the columns, carrying a wax sealed
missive --- or a dagger to slip between your ribs.” There is
even a zither playing in the background to put us in the mind of
the great film noir, The Third Man. This is wonderfully
evocative writing. One fully expects to see Peter Lorre also make a
nervous appearance, perhaps followed closely by Sydney Greenstreet
in his red fez.

Besides being the founder of both Hard Case Crime and the Hunt
series and a highly knowledgeable editor, Ardai is a great writer
in his own right. He has written three original books for Hard Case
Crime, the first two under the name Richard Aleas. Those books won
an Edgar and Shamus Award, respectively. The Hunt series, which is
scheduled now for four more books over the next year or so, will be
in great hands as long as Ardai recruits writers as talented as he
is to help Hunt relate his adventures.

HUNT THROUGH THE CRADLE OF FEAR packs a wallop of an ending that
will leave you breathless, hoping for more. This is exactly what
pulp adventures are supposed to do. It makes for fun summertime
reading.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on January 22, 2011

Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear
Gabriel Hunt, as told to Charles Ardai

  • Publication Date: July 28, 2009
  • Genres: Adventure, Fiction
  • Mass Market Paperback: 267 pages
  • Publisher: Leisure Books
  • ISBN-10: 0843962585
  • ISBN-13: 9780843962581