Fire Bell in the Night

Written by Tim Champlin
Review by Susan Zabolotny

The newest novel by Tim Champlin begins with a chance meeting between Alex Thorne, a retired Secret Service agent, and Rudyard Kipling, a young, energetic author on his first American tour. They are both on board the storm-tossed City of Peking, which threatens to capsize at any moment. Alex is contemplating his future and battling a severe bout of seasickness when he rescues Kipling from a life-threatening “accident.” He becomes suspicious and signs on to tour as Kipling’s bodyguard.

Through a series of close calls and dangerous mishaps, they manage to escape the clutches of a band of mysterious enemies as they criss-cross the country. All the while, Kipling records his impressions of America to send home to his Indian newspaper, the Allahabad Pioneer. He routinely creates conflict with essays and interviews full of barbs and insults for his host country and its proud people, who frequently settle their differences outside the law. This, too, increases Alex’s concern for his client.

The excitement builds as Alex realizes these small attempts at harassment have taken on a more sinister tone, and Kipling’s life is at stake. He begins to suspect his old nemesis, Ann Gilcrease, a lawless ex-Confederate spy and master of disguise, who nearly killed Alex eight years earlier before escaping her captors and vanishing into society. Alex must use all of his expertise to outwit the would-be assassins and make sure Kipling lives to complete his tour and return to India unharmed.

Champlin’s novel is fast-paced and enjoyable. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the book’s thrilling climax, in which Kipling and Alex (and even a guest-starring Mark Twain) face down their enemy in a conclusion that proves the sword can be just as mighty as the pen.