Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire is the fourth book in the Gabriel Hunt series of adventure novels created by Charles Ardai, founder of the Hard Case Crime imprint. The conceit of the series is that modern adventurer Gabriel Hunt authors each novel (though, curiously, none are narrated in the first person) with the help of a different writer. So far, the series has been a mixed bag, but even at their weakest, the novels remain entertaining and diverting. However, Christa Faust’s contribution to the series, Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire, cuts loose with the potential that this series has to offer, telling a riveting, action-packed story that is goofy as hell but a heck of a lot of fun.
The premise of the series is fairly straightforward and contains within it the potential for entertaining pulp adventures. Gabriel Hunt is a modern day Indiana Jones-style adventurer who seeks out lost and legendary antiquities with the support of his family’s $100 million Hunt Foundation, led by his more practical brother, Michael (I sincerely hope that Ardai intended that name as a joke). Gabriel is haunted by the mystery of his parents’ disappearance, when they were last seen on a cruise ship that was attacked by pirates several years earlier. As can be expected, Gabriel’s adventures often require him to team up with female scientists and archeologists. In addition, the novels offer a bit of continuity: the immediately preceding adventure is referenced in each new novel.
Of the four Hunt novels published so far, Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire is the best. Ardai’s contribution, Hunt through the Cradle of Fear, is a close second, providing an entertaining dose of world history as Gabriel Hunt searches for Homer’s lost epic of Oedipus and the secret of the sphinx. However, the first novel, Hunt at the Well of Eternity by James Reasoner, reads like a series of action set-pieces loosely held together by a plot, and does little to make the hero a compelling character. The third, Nicholas Kaufmann’s Hunt at World’s End, shows signs of strain in the series’ basic premise, as we get yet another instance of Hunt chasing after a lost artifact while being pursued by a villainous antiquities collector–basically, the same plot from the previous two novels.
Faust (who also wrote the fantastic, sexy Hard Case Crime novel Money Shot) cleverly eschews that particular plot formula as Gabriel’s adventure takes him to Antarctica to find a missing scientist, Dr. Lawrence Silver, whose daughter, Velda, has sought out Hunt’s assistance. Prior to the introduction of Velda Silver, however, Faust gives us a mini-adventure where Hunt must recover a legendary kindjal (some kind of decorative knife) from his female nemesis, Dr. Fiona Rush, in an ancient Moldovan temple. This opening adventure teases us with a little welcome bait-and-switch–it seems like Faust is giving us a plot that resembles the first three novels, but what follows ends up being quite pleasantly different.
For the Antarctic adventure, Hunt puts together a crack supporting team: Rue Aparecido, a top mechanic who can pilot or drive anything with a motor and who also happens to be Hunt’s former lover; and Maximillian “Millie” Ventrose, a giant fighter who will serve as the muscle on the adventure. Rue also has experience in Antarctica, and Gabriel hopes that will help them cut through the red tape that might hinder their expedition. In Antarctica, they also team up with Nils, a scientific partner of Dr. Silver who will help lead them to the last place anyone heard from the missing scientist.
The rest of the novel is filled with some pretty damn clever and entertaining twists and turns that are best left as surprises, because most of the enjoyment of this novel comes from the pure joy generated from Faust’s creative choices. Faust is clearly having a lot of fun here–most of the characters spend at least half of the novel naked or nearly so, due to the requirements of the plot, of course–and that fun is contagious. Hunt Beyond the Frozen Fire is a blast, and I hope it serves as the model for future entries in this series.