When the celebrated novelist James Patterson proclaims that "Ted Bell can really
really write," the reader should know there is a something special awaiting him.
This writer in residence at Cambridge University has produced a thoroughly enjoyable spy novel, "Phantom." (William Morrow, 486 pages)
The story begins with a series of bizarre "accidents" at Disney World as rides
mysteriously break down. Space Mountain erupts in a blaze of fire. The computers that run the legendary park are malfunctioning.
The deadly computer glitches accelerate: a Russian submarine fires torpedoes at an American cruise ship, an F-15 fighter jet accompanying Air Force One fires a sidewinder missile at the President's plane and inside a U.S. missile defense bunker, the technicians are tricked into launching anti-ballistic missiles.
The nature of these "accidents" suggests cyberterrorism.
When an eminent American computer scientist commits suicide, suspicion points towards his former student, an Iranian who had worked with him in developing a computer with artificial intelligence.
British special agent Lord Alex Hawke is recruited to find the mysterious hacker, a menacing phantom who has achieved the ultimate in the quest for artificial intelligence - the singularity - the creation of a computer with intelligence far beyond that of a human being.
Bell's intrepid hero, Alex Hawke, has a full plate of adventure awaiting him as he struggles to protect his son from Russian assassins while hunting the elusive Phantom and stopping his reign of cyber terrorism.
Lord Hawke is a romantic character - a modern day sophisticated swashbuckler whose family tree even boasts a pirate of old. He is a daring knight in every sense of the word - devoted to Queen and country and to the woman who serves as nanny and bodyguard to his son, Scotland Yard Sergeant Nell Spooner.
Together they are the most interesting pair of British agents since John Steed and Emma Peel.
Woven into the threads of this modern day sea yarn is an espionage tale with a prophetic element of science fiction. The author insists the difference between science fiction and fact is time.
As such, his "Phantom" is a warning of the terrors that await mankind should an evil genius achieve the ultimate supercomputer capable of eclipsing and eliminating the human race.
With the disclosure of the existence of Stuxnet, a computer virus aimed at derailing Iran's nuclear ambitions, Bell demonstrates that cyberspace may be the ultimate frontier.
The recent spell of unseasonably warm weather makes one want to dive into the summer beachside books and Ted Bell's "Phantom" is a great start.