British counterspy Alex Hawke outwits international terrorists in this sixth installment of bestselling author Ted Bell’s series of thrillers. Hawke is a modern-day James Bond without the stirred martini. Having lost his true love the year before, Hawke prefers rum straight from the bottle. Now he heeds the call from his friend, His Royal Highness Prince Charles, who has discovered threats against Britain’s royal family. Even Prince Harry makes simultaneous appearances in Afghanistan and Jolly Old. It’s easy to indulge “Anglophile fantasies of Elizabethan castles, of knights of old and Coldstream Guards, the grandeur of royalty” in this action-packed read.
Bell melds fiction and fact by detailing Princess Diana’s last evening in Paris with a peculiar twist that only a thriller writer could conjure. On the eve of the mid-term elections, a fictional president says, “Frankly, Senator Reed, I think Americans voting for you are like chickens voting for Colonel Sanders.”
Miami’s largest hospital is vaporized. Kvetchers at airports learn not to when a terminal at London’s Heathrow is blown to smithereens. The 1992 burning of Windsor Castle is revisited. Seemingly random acts of violence all dovetail to a single person --- Smith, believed to be from Northern Ireland. Even the IRA bombing that killed the Queen’s cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1979, is linked to Smith, who now weasels his way into Balmoral Castle. But for what purpose? Smith has “a grievous lapse of judgment,” not knowing Hawke has landed in a --- No! --- Black Hawk helicopter at the Queen’s castle in Scotland.
When the mechanical Ugg, a “warbot,” can’t defuse a nuclear explosive, Hawke and new love Dr. Sahira Karim take matters into their own hands. India-born Karim opines: “Our long tradition of tolerance has made us an oasis for immigrants and political outcasts from around the world.” Hawke’s compatriot, Montague Thorne, says that “the combined forces of the Taliban and al Qaeda, now grown immensely strong under a single command and known as the ‘Sword of Allah,’ definitely have aims to take over the country by force.”
There’s a terrorist plot in the works, “[s]omething on a massive scale.” Seemingly unrelated incidents intertwine when Hawke is asked, “What the bloody hell are the Taliban doing in Northern Ireland? Fighting alongside the New IRA?” However, the Taliban is controlled not by bin Laden but by Sheik Abu al-Rashad, code-named Scimitar.
This richly researched novel has information overload. Tangential asides and a voluminous number of characters occasionally confuse, and several have a “fondness for the thoroughly exhausted F-word.” Though somewhat overwritten, gems like “white stars...looked sharp enough to prick your finger” caused me to reach into my Star Jar and assign another.
Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy (www.DeanMurphy.net) on June 28, 2011