The third installment in the Alex Hawke adventure series is easily the best book yet, though there were still a few wrinkles that needed ironing out. Sometime spy Alex Hawke is called in to rescue an American spook who has fallen into the hands of the Chinese. The Chinese, who have become close friends with France, are up to something big, and it somehow involves beautiful actress Jet Moon, whose bed Alex is roused from when duty calls. Jet's father, General Sun-Yat Moon, is in league with her dubious boyfriend, Baron "Schatzi" Von Draxis. The French, the Chinese, and the German shipbuilder are up to no good, infiltrating the Arab empire of Oman as part of their plans. While Alex's ex-Scotland Yard investigator pal, Ambrose Congreve, travels to New York to hunt for witnesses to a decades-old murder related to the French-Chinese plot, armoire-sized Stokley Jones rescues Jet from her angry boyfriend and travels the world gathering clues with her, figuring out what the French and Chinese are up to. Meanwhile, Alex has to infiltrate an impregnable fortress to rescue a sultan and his harem from their enemies. There were a lot of loose ends to tie up, and just when it seemed like things were winding down, they kicked into overdrive, and Alex suddenly found himself in a race against time to save New York City.
Though the book wins points for handling a multi-faceted mystery, I have a few small complaints. First, though Ambrose Congreve is a charming character who adds wonderful texture to the back story, he was given far too large a role. Pages that were spent describing his fondness for the finer things would have been better spent on Alex, whose role in the book was minuscule. Alex is recovering from severe heartbreak, which is a challenging aspect to add to an adventure yarn, but merely leaving him alone for the bulk of the book made me feel cheated. I like Alex! This would have been a good time to delve into who he really is, maybe have him get back to some hobbies he had let slide in his grief over his wife's death, but he merely played a bit part instead. Stoke's part was just about right, and I always find myself smiling when he's on the page. My other complaint is about the action. Though Bell can write a pretty good action scene, this book had a tendency to leave the action when it was hot and not return until the dust was settling, cheating us out of the juiciest bits of the story. These scenes are utterly vital in an adventure novel, and he's doing well up to a point, but the final quarter of the important, tense scenes needs work. Two scenes I sorely missed in their entirety were Jet's family dinner that ended badly and the final takedown with Stoke and one of the bad guys at the very end. Shame on the editors for not insisting on a few more pages there.
There was a great deal of character development going on here...for Ambrose Congreve. The rest of the characters, especially the star, needed a little more attention. Bell is still relatively new at this, and he's taken on one heck of a story with this book, which was a smashing success. Its few imperfections mar the overall product very little. He's created a great cast of characters; so it's natural that I want to get to spend more time with some of them. Alex Hawke and friends are climbing the ranks, and they're high on my list of favorite adventure heroes.