Throwback Thursday: ‘Spy’ by Ted Bell

Ted Bell Amazon Picture.jpgThe dirty little secret about the thriller and spy genre is that authors don’t have to be great writers to sell books. A great thriller is designed to, well, thrill the reader. They aren’t intended to serve as a showpiece for authors to flex their literary muscles. They’re meant to get your heart pumping, make you excited, and then leave you desperate to find out how the hero will once again beat the odds to save the day.

That’s why Ted Bell, who formerly served as Visiting Scholar at Cambridge University and Writer-In-Residence at Sidney-Sussex College, is unique. He’s a world-class writer who could have excelled at anything, but he just so happens to write thriller novels about a man named Alex Hawke. 

Bell was inspired by Ian Fleming, who of course is known for creating James Bond. It’s easy to see the similarities between Bond and Hawke, but let’s get one thing straight–Fleming didn’t even come close to having the writing talent that Bell possesses. Likewise, Bond isn’t nearly the hero that Lord Alex Hawke is.

Alex Hawke is a fascinating character. He’s a thrill-seeking billionaire descended from a line of pirates, who joined the British Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI-6. He’s good looking, which, combined with his British accent, makes him nearly irresistible to women everywhere. He’s also athletic, daring, smart, cool under fire and fiercely loyal. That’s not to say Hawke is perfect, because he, too, has his demons, just like the rest of us. Some of which you’ll see in this book.

In Spy, the fourth novel in the Hawke series, Ted Bell did something that he previously hadn’t done during his career as a novelist. He wove current headlines and politics into the plot of his novel, and the end result was nothing short of brilliant. He even beat a few headlines by accurately predicting things in his story that later turned out to be true.

Spy is the fourth novel in the Alex Hawke series, but each book is written so that you can pick them up off the bookstore shelf and dive right in. Give it a try, I guarantee you’ll fall in love with this franchise, and Bell’s writing, in no time.

The Story

Ted Bell SpyThe story begins as Alex Hawke attempts a daring escape from the clutches of a hidden terrorist organization burrowed deep within the Amazon rainforest. He was captured nearly six months prior by a native tribe of the land and then sold into slavery, where he was forced into hard labor day after day.

Eventually, Lord Hawke uncovered a devious plot that the group’s leader, Muhammad Top, had been secretly planning for many years. A plan that, should it succeed, would strike a mighty blow to America in the name of holy jihad.

The terrorist’s plan involved using robotic cars, boats and planes to deliver nuclear devices into the heart of America where they would be detonated. The causalities would be off the charts and the damage unthinkable.

Hawke’s will to survive was fueled by the mere fact that he had to escape and warn the powers that be of the impending attack. Thankfully, Hawke did indeed get away, but that was really just the beginning. Months later, Alex was asked to speak about the dangers hidden deep in the jungle, which he did. Soon after, the book’s plot really takes off as several story lines play out in a thrilling fashion.

The terrorist group in the Amazon had infiltrated the native tribe and was now buddying up to the Mexican government under the guise that they were actually sympathizers of Mexico. They enlisted the government’s help, largely in part by throwing salt in old wounds left over from the Mexican-American War. The group, which has ties to Hezbollah, even promised to help Mexico take back the land they lost to The United States more than one-hundred-fifty years ago.

While all of this was going on, a small town in Texas was enduring devastation at the hands of illegal immigrants hellbent on destruction and theft. In less than a year’s time, at least five young girls had been kidnapped. The local sheriff, Franklin Dixon, was a good man who was in over his head. Things only worsened once he discovered a connection between the crime in his town and the evil group hidden in the Amazon.

Dixon, actually, is one of the strongest characters in the book. Hawke has less screen time in Spy than in any of Ted’s other novels, and Dixon is one of the reasons why. One could even argue that he’s the real hero of the book, though eventually the sheriff needed Hawke’s help–allowing Lord Alex the opportunity to once again save the day.

Daisy, Dixon’s wife, is another strong character whose presence grows steadily throughout the book. While she starts out as a seemingly insignificant character, she ends up playing a pivotal role towards the end. And then there’s the heroic K-9 officer named Dutch who, using his bomb-detecting sniffer, becomes America’s favorite dog.

As far as thrillers go, you won’t find a more gripping final act than this one. Spy starts with a bang but ends with a cannon-like explosion, gluing the reader to their seat as Lord Alex Hawke boldly returns to the jungle to confront Muhammad Top and end his band of extremists once and for all.

Why I loved it

In the afterword portion of Phantom, another of Ted’s books, the author discussed the hypothetical scientific/technological event known as singularity. It was here, amazingly, that I fell in love with his writing. I’d previously learned about singularity my freshman year of college, but never found it to be all that interesting. However, after reading the several pages Ted Bell wrote about it at the back of his book, I was calling up friends who majored in scientific fields to ask their take on it and find out more.

Finally, after hours of research and asking dozens of questions, a friend asked me “Hey, man, why the sudden interest in singularity?”

“I just read about it in a book and –“

“What book?” they asked, interrupting me.

“It’s called Phantom. It was written by Ted Bell,” I replied.

From there I explained the book, then read to him the afterword. My buddy, already a science geek, responded by telling me that Ted’s implementation was the best analysis and breakdown of singularity he’d ever heard.

Why’d I tell you that story? Two reasons: First, as I already said, Ted is a world-class writer. He could write about anything and make it the most fascinating thing you’ve read in months. I swear to you Ted could literally write a scene where a character is watching paint dry, and it would probably win an award for Most Action Packed Scene of the Year.

The other reason I told you that story is to leave you with this… If Ted can make stuff like singularity sound absolutely fascinating while simply trying to explain to his readers what the term actually means, imagine what he can do when he’s trying to entertain you!

Why you should read it

Alex Hawke is one of the premier heroes alive in the genre today. A cross between James Bond and Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt, there’s no series protagonist quite like Hawke. He’s unique, just like his creator, and an absolute must-read for fans of spy novels and thrillers.

Book Details

Author: Ted Bell

Pages: 496 (Hardcover)

Publisher: Atria Books

Release Date: August 15, 2006 (Order your copy now!)

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