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Ted Bell: Putin the 'Dark Rider' of Russian Politics

By    |   Saturday, 04 July 2009 04:40 PM

New York Times best-selling author Ted Bell’s latest spy novel, “Tsar: A Thriller,” is about to be released in paperback. The book features Bell’s fictional character, Alex Hawke, an English super spy fighting the leaders of a new and invigorated Russia.

The book, which has been out several months in hardcover, is a fascinating read about a new evil empire under Vladimir Putin who, as the book opens, has been locked up in a lethal prison built over a massive radioactive waste site.

The title of Bell’s fifth novel featuring Hawke is a reference to evil mastermind Count Ivan Korsakov’s plan to return Russia to its rightful place in the world order by reacquiring its former colonies. In so doing, Korsakov (aka the Dark Rider) will conquer all of Europe and reign as the new tsar.

See Video: Ted Bell discusses Vladimir Putin's role in Russia - Click Here Now

But not if Hawke can stop him.

This fifth installment in the series, which includes “Hawke,” “Assassin,” “Pirate” and “Spy,” finds Hawke battling treachery, love, and a serial killer known only as Happy the Baker. During the adventure, Hawke is thrown a curve when he finds himself falling in love with the beautiful Anastasia, who just happens to be Korsakov's daughter.

[Editor’s Note: Order Ted Bell's “Tsar: A Thriller” for only $9.99 – Go Here Now.]

Hawke has to put aside his feelings for Anastasia to save the world from the ruthless power broker in the new Russia who wants to destroy the U.S. and become the next tsar.

The novel features cool weaponry, action-packed scenes, murder, espionage, and cliff-hanging rescues –– everything a reader could possibly hope for in a narrative that reads fast and furious.

Before becoming a novelist, Bell was chairman of the board and worldwide creative service director for advertising giant Young & Rubicam. He has even written a best-selling children’s book called “Nick of Time.”

Newsmax again caught up with the author to discuss his latest work.

Newsmax: You spent a lot of time in Russia studying Vladimir Putin. You say everything about Putin in your book is true. What are Putin’s most profound characteristics?

Bell: This is where the problem came in with making him a true villain. Everyone thinks that he’s this mastermind of the KGB. He was never a high-ranking KGB official until [Boris] Yeltsin made him that. He was a very low-level KGB agent in Eastern Europe, in East Germany, actually.

When Yeltsin decided that he was the successor, then they made him the head of the KGB.

What he has done for that country, from their point of view, is bring them back from the abyss. It was a kleptocracy; it was a country run by criminals, and he pulled them bodily back as a country, got rid of all the criminals that were running Russian society and restored their national pride –– gave them a sense of honor they had been missing and made them no longer feel like sort of the laughing stock losers of the Cold War but, in fact, a power to be reckoned with.

Those are the good things that Putin has done for Russia.

Is that kind of a dichotomy because Boris Yeltsin was, supposedly, a nice guy, for lack of a better term? And yet Putin came along and seemed to restore Russia.

If you look at Russian political history over the years there seems to be a sort of a back and forth, and what they call it in Russia is a pale rider/dark rider phenomenon. You have a pale rider who is avuncular, loves a humanist who cares about the people. And I would say Yeltsin certainly falls into that category. Then it is always followed by a dark rider.

So, Putin is the dark rider. He’s the guy who only cares about power; he doesn’t care about the welfare of the people of the country. He cares about power. And that’s all the KGB cares about, so he’s got a long tradition of that. Yeltsin was the affable, sort of bumbling, and then along came Putin, the dark rider.

Describe the atmosphere of the political climate in Russia as your book begins.

It begins with Putin having restored Russia to a sense of pride and place on the world stage. One of the underlying things about Russian politics is the way they’ve protected their borders historically is to expand them. They’ve always been worried about their borders on Eastern Europe. So, one of the things politically I know the Kremlin has in mind is they would love to get back their Soviet Union borders.

As a matter of fact, the day “Tsar” came out was the day Putin rolled into Georgia. So, if you need any further proof that this is on their mind… and this book was written a year-and-a-half before they went into Georgia, so it was a little bit of “did you send an advance reader copy to the Kremlin before the book came out?”

It’s like you were a prophet.

I think fiction writers are a good way to figure out what’s going to happen next, because we have to think ahead of the curve and out of the box.

In real life, do you think Putin hates America?

Yes, I think he does. I think it’s in their culture to not like the West.

I think it’s an inferiority complex that’s borne of centuries of feeling that they were not up to the sophistication of France or England or Germany. There’s a little neurosis in the Russian character that I think Putin embodies. Also, as just a little side note, I think Putin started out trying to be friends with America and friends with George Bush, but one of the things that happened was he went to George Bush prior to the invasion of Iraq and said at a private meeting not publicized, “Please do not do this now.” Bush said, “Why,” and he said, “If you invade, then we will lose a $40 billion deal and we can’t, frankly, afford it.” This is when the economy was in free-fall.

And he [Putin] got Bush’s assurances, and then the next thing he knew, Bush was rolling into Iraq and never said, “Heads up, we’re going to do it anyway.” That’s when he decided he couldn’t trust Bush. This is information that I got. I’m just telling you what I heard.

Was that an oil deal?

It was probably an oil deal. Their economy was in shambles at that point, and they just couldn’t afford it. And Bush did what he wanted to do in his own self-interest.

You mentioned heroism is one of the things we need to see more of, especially for children.

I would say that children’s’ literature today is sorely lacking in old fashioned virtues like heroism, self-reliance, independence, love of country, love of family. I base that on watching the New York Times best-seller list for children. This book is all about a kid who wants to be a hero. I think every child –– boy or girl –– and every person in fact, has a hero inside them, and they always want to express that. In children’s literature today, that doesn’t seem to be very popular.

The number one best-selling New York Times chapter book for children is “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” That gives you some idea. The number two is “Thirteen Reasons,” about a 12-year-old girl who sends letters to thirteen different friends telling them why she’s going to commit suicide. This is the kind of stuff that’s out there…and the best-selling book, “Vampires.”

So, I’m going 100 miles per hour in the opposite direction. I’m trying to write books like “Treasure Island,” “The Count of Monte Cristo,” “Captain Blood,” books like that. I’m writing old fashioned adventures for a modern audience of children.

“Nick of Time” is a sequel set during World War II. What’s the sequel about?

There’s time travel in the book, so it’s set during World War II as the primary story and he [Nick] goes back in history to 1805 and helps Admiral Lord Nelson win the battle of Trafalgar.

The sequel is called “The Time Pirate.” At this point, the Nazi’s have invaded the Channel Islands, where my hero lives, and he restores his dad’s old fighter plane from the First World War and bombs the Nazi airbase. The second part of the story is he [Nick] realizes that England is going to need America in 1940 just the way they did in 1917, therefore America has to win the American Revolution, so he goes back in time and helps George Washington at Yorktown.

You’re a big fan of Ian Fleming?

Life-long, yes. He opened a whole new world for me when I was 13, or whenever I first started reading those books beyond Little League and putting cards in the wheels of your bicycle. This whole world of international espionage and glamorous places –– the south of France –– it just was a complete change in my way of viewing the world, thanks to Ian Fleming.

I’ve just always thought he did a fabulous job with those books. I think the books are far better than the movies, frankly, except for the ones that were based on his books. He’s just one of my literary heroes.

So James Bond was an inspiration for your later writings?

James Bond was created in 1953. When I started thinking about writing spy adventures, it occurred to me that maybe 60 years after James Bond it might be time for a character with those same traits, but a 21st century hero.

I didn’t lift the character of James Bond. My character is arguably not even like James Bond, but that inspiration was Fleming and Bond and all the other spy books I read during my life.

Your James Bond is Alex Hawke?

The way I saw Alex Hawke in my mind when I was writing these books was a cross between Errol Flynn and William Powell. For those people who remember William Powell, he was the star of “The Thin Man” books. He’s urbane and witty and funny, but he can also kill you with his bare hands.

Describe the agency Alex Hawke works for.

That is called MI6 and it is the international espionage division of the British Secret Intelligence Service. MI5 is domestic; MI6 is international. Hawke works for international. His immediate superior is “C,” called “M” in the Bond books, but the real name “C” at MI6 is for Sir Mansfield Cumming, who signed all his memos with a big, green “C.” To this day, the tradition at MI6 is to call the head of service “C.”

Something like 007?

No numbers, but everybody who works in the field has a name that’s not their own. That’s the way it works in the real world –– at the CIA, and at MI6.

Ivan Korsakov, Hawke’s arch villain, is a total figment of my imagination. Originally I was going to make Vladimir Putin the villain of this book, but during the research, I decided that there were problems making him the villain because there’s the flip side of Vladimir Putin. So I just made up a villain.

All the villains have to be worthy of Alex Hawke. In other words, you have to believe that they are smart enough, tough enough, and evil enough that they could defeat Alex. So Alex has to overcome a substantial villain and, certainly, Korsakov is that.

With tongue in cheek in your book, you come up with this killer Happy the Baker. That’s pretty interesting.

Happy the Baker is a very truly evil character. Happy’s operating in America while the main story of “Tsar” is happening in Russia. I always feel there has to be some American involvement because my audience is primarily American.

Happy is based on the true story that I just remembered and plucked out of the air of an ice cream truck driver on Staten Island who was a serial killer which, I thought, was an incredibly evil thing to be. He’s driving around selling popsicles to children, but he’s a serial killer. That was the basis for the character of Happy the Baker.

You have him selling bombs?

I have him selling donuts, but he’s killing people in America.

No doubt you would like to see “Tsar” turned into a screenplay?,

I’d like to see it turned into a movie, but you have to have the screenplay before the move, and that’s actually going on right now. We are talking to some of the top screenwriters in Hollywood. In this past year, I’ve been approached by three of the major male film stars, including Tom Cruise and Johnny Depp, and some others whom I won’t name.

There’s great interest in this character in Hollywood right now, which is very exciting for me.

If you could have anybody in the world, dead or alive, play Alex Hawke, who would that be?

In my dream world, Hugh Jackman. He’d be the guy I’d really love to see playing him. I think he’d be perfect for Hawke. And if Errol Flynn were still alive, I’d say Errol Flynn. I think he’d be great.

And Sean Connery?

And Sean Connery at age 30 would be great. Actually, Sean Connery I would love to have –– if we do get to the point where we actually make a film –– I’d love to have him playing a character called Pelam Grenville, who’s a friend of Hawke’s in the book. I think I’d love to have Sean Connery just for sentimental reasons. That would be great.

See Video: Ted Bell discusses Vladimir Putin's role in Russia - Click Here Now

[Editor’s Note: Order Ted Bell's “Tsar: A Thriller” for only $9.99 – Go Here Now.]

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New York Times best-selling author Ted Bell’s latest spy novel, “Tsar: A Thriller,” is about to be released in paperback. The book features Bell’s fictional character, Alex Hawke, an English super spy fighting the leaders of a new and invigorated Russia.The book, which has...
Saturday, 04 July 2009 04:40 PM
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