This was another disappointment, and I didn't finish it. And it was a disappointment for almost the same reason as 8th Confession. But this went to an even greater extreme. I've enjoyed previous Alex Hawke books by Ted Bell. I enjoyed them enough to reread them. So when I noticed Tsar on the shelf at the library and realised it was a new one, I was overjoyed. Unfortunately, my cheerfulness was misplaced.
It starts out promising enough, with an intriguing prologue involving Hawke's ancestor of the same name (did confuse me for a moment I admit, as I'd previously thought Hawke too young to have been involved in the Cuban missile crisis) on a northern island, waiting to go up against the Soviets. They had some sort of new sonar, they had to know the capabilities for the US to negotiate properly and keep their naval blockade of Cuba safe. Sounded promising.
The first chapter opened with Hawke sunning himself on the beach. Fine. Followed by something of an information dump which read rather like a character profile put into sentences. Not so inspiring, but I figured it was just to get people up to speed who hadn't read the books before--although surely the aspects of his personality would've been better demonstrated rather than just told. My misgivings mounted somewhat when a mysterious Russian woman showed up on the shore where Hawke lay naked. Hmm... However, it was fine, nothing dubious developed. Then there was a break to what the 'bad guys'--Russians, of the wealthy and powerful variety, who employ hitmen. These sections, I admit, were what kept me reading for so long--a very good cast of villains to pit against Hawke was created. Meanwhile, on an island paradise, things were rather boring, and getting worse. Over a hundred pages in, besides a few bits where Hawke accepted a new job which was basically a desk job looking into Russia, all that was happening on that front was he'd been called up by the mystery woman and asked to be a model for a portrait. Fine, but he was to pose naked, and the novel basically descended into erotic fiction. Which was definitely not what I picked it up for. I don't mind a bit of romance, as I've said before. I generally skip over the descriptive sections where this romance is practised, but this was getting ridiculous. I gave the book up. I think it's safe to say that after reading over a hundred pages, the book should have at least gone somewhere. Humph. Another disappointment. At least the most recent Vince Flynn one was good, and the most recent Matthew Reilly one truly excellent. Have I reveiwed that one yet? I might not have done... I'll have to do that in a moment. Anyway, I suppose I can't make a full recommendation as I haven't read the full book, but based on what I read it was pretty poor.