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Hell's Gate: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Stephen Frey
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From New York Times bestselling author Stephen Frey comes a riveting new thriller about a world-weary star litigator who goes west to become a firefighter in the nation’s greatest woodland—and stumbles across the toughest case of his career.

With fifteen novels under his belt, including such bestsellers as The Takeover and The Insider, veteran suspense writer Stephen Frey has long since proven himself as a master of the sophisticated thriller. Now, with Hell’s Gate, he makes a bold departure into new territory with a story that is literally as explosive as it is impossible to set down. When thirty-five-year-old litigator Hunter Lee decides to turn his back on the rat race that has made him rich but cost him his marriage, he takes the advice of his brother and goes to Montana. There he joins the elite Smoke Jumpers, marines of the firefighting world, who parachute out of C-5 airplanes to contain the worst forest fires of the remote west. But escape from the ugly side of human nature is hardly what he finds when word reaches him of a small town’s little secret involving arson and the reckless quest for profits at the expense of lives. As Hunter follows his instincts, rural Montana becomes a crucible where good and evil collide—and where one man, running from his past, takes on the Herculean task of exposing the guilty while saving himself and those he cares about most from the biggest foe he has ever faced.

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About the Author

Stephen Frey is a managing director at a private equity firm. He is the bestselling author of fourteen previous novels, including The Fourth Order, The Insider, and The Takeover. He lives in Florida.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


As far back as he could remember Hunter Lee had known his fate lay in the law. In being an attorney. In being a litigator.

It was a predestination he'd always found mysterious because he was an unassuming man outside a courtroom. A humble man. A man others had to make an effort to get to know, not a man who got to know others.

But Hunter turned into a different person when he came before the bench. Once he stepped through the dark-wood doors of justice he became gregarious, aggressive, and unfailingly persuasive. His key success factors inside a courtroom: He was always more prepared than the other side; he knew the answer to every question he asked; he had an uncanny ability to develop personal connections with jurors and hostile witnesses; he wasn't hesitant to use his rugged good looks and smooth southern charm to convince any woman sitting on the fence to see things his way; and he never lost his temper. He might turn up the volume once in a while, but he was always in complete control.

Over a decade, Hunter had won nearly a billion dollars in damage claims for his clients. In the process, he'd made his firm and its seven senior partners a fortune in contingency fees. People told him constantly to start his own firm so he could keep all those fees for himself, but he never had. He was still with Warfield & Stone, the same New York City firm he'd joined after graduating second in his class from the University of Virginia law school thirteen years ago.

During recruiting season of his final year at Virginia, he'd been drawn to Warfield & Stone's reputation for shunning publicity despite its long list of front-page cases and high-profile clients, drawn to its aura of secrecy. He was also impressed by the fascination his classmates and professors had with the firm and the near-celebrity status he attained on the grounds by being the only Virginia graduate the senior partners of Warfield & Stone wanted.

Hunter had gotten over his wide-eyed desire to be associated with such a prestigious firm a long time ago; that wasn't why he'd stayed. He'd stayed because he felt an enormous loyalty to the man who'd recruited him so hard out of Virginia. The man who was now Warfield & Stone's managing partner and a legend in the legal community.

Nelson Radcliff.

Hunter stood before the polished plaintiff desk to the judge's right, still wearing his sharp, pin-stripe suit coat despite the heat of the packed courtroom. Even though the four attorneys at the defense desk had removed their coats hours ago when the judge said it was all right to do so. For some time he'd been gazing down at a single piece of paper lying on the desk, as though hypnotized by the typed words on it and the heavy, unique signature beneath the words. Finally he brought his dark, penetrating eyes to those of the white-haired judge.

"Your Honor, I call Mr. Carl Bach."

"The plaintiffs calls Carl Bach to the stand," the uniformed bailiff announced in a booming voice.

A stocky, middle-aged man with a neatly trimmed, brown mustache rose from his seat in the middle of the third row. He excused himself in a low whisper several times as he struggled toward the center aisle over and around several pairs of knees. Finally free, he moved purposefully down the aisle to the witness stand, careful not to make eye contact with Hunter.

As Bach swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, Hunter thought back to how he'd honed his skills in those intimidating amphitheater classrooms at Virginia. By the end of his second year he'd gotten so good he could usually argue either side of an issue and win, so good none of his classmates would volunteer to take him on in mock court even with mountains of evidence on their side. Professors had to force other students to oppose him. That was what distanced him so remarkably from everyone else, his professors would tell the litany of firms seeking his services. That was what caught the attention of the big New York and Washington firms even faster than his gaudy GPA.

What caught the attention of Nelson Radcliff.

It was Hunter's father who had decided what his career would be early on in his childhood, even before Hunter really knew what a lawyer was. Robert Hunter Lee would be an attorney, his father would announce every evening as the family sat down to dinner. A New York City litigator, he'd specify during the meal. Case closed, he'd say over dessert. Night after night, as far back as Hunter could remember.

Hunter had never questioned the decree. He'd simply done everything in his power to make it come true, everything he could to make his father happy.

As Carl Bach lowered his right hand and took a seat in the raised wooden witness chair, Hunter focused on his target. "Mr. Bach, please state your occupation for the record."

Bach rolled his eyes and gave Hunter an aggravated shake of the head, making it clear to everyone that he thought these proceedings were a charade. That they were a ridiculous way to spend a blistering hot summer afternoon in a stuffy Bozeman, Montana, courtroom with a broken air conditioner.

"I'm the chief operating officer of the Bridger Railroad," Bach answered stiffly. "I'm the second most senior executive at the company behind the CEO, George Drake."

"Mr. Drake also owns the company, correct?"


"Is Mr. Drake here today?"


Hunter gave the jury a puzzled look. As if it surprised him that Drake would miss such an important proceeding, as if it was arrogant of Drake not to be here and, therefore, a personal affront to them.

He moved out from behind the plaintiff desk and headed toward the witness chair, leaving behind the piece of paper he'd been studying. "As the COO, you're an important person at the railroad." It was an obvious point, but saying so for all to hear might put Bach off guard, might make him feel a connection to a hostile attorney, might cause him to drop his defenses at a critical moment. "A very important person."

"Ah...yes." Bach stroked the tips of his mustache with the stubby thumb and forefinger of his right hand. "Certainly."

"A person who should be up to speed on all important company matters. Especially matters related to the day-to-day operations of the railroad, especially as the chief operating officer."

Bach stole a wary glance at the jury, recognizing that he'd been deftly maneuvered into a tight corner right off the bat.

And the jury watched Bach silently remind himself that this tall, handsome attorney from New York with the deliberate manner and the intense eyes had a big-time reputation for a reason.

"Well, no one can really -- "

"How big is the Bridger Railroad, Mr. Bach?"

"When you ask 'how big,' what exactly do you mean?"

"Let's start with how many miles of track you operate."

Bach pulled a white handkerchief from his shirt pocket and dabbed at the tiny beads of sweat forming on his forehead. "One thousand six hundred and forty nine miles of main line. Four hundred twelve and a half miles of yards, spurs, and sidings." The stocky man with the bushy mustache gave Hunter a smug look. "Give or take a few feet."

A chuckle rustled around the courtroom.

"Thank you," Hunter said politely. Good. Bach was giving specific answers. He'd taken the bait, felt he had to prove himself after being called out. Now the jury would expect crisp, specific answers to every question. In a few minutes Bach wouldn't be so specific, and the jury would wonder why. "Is all that track in Montana?"

"Most of it. We go a spitting distance into Idaho, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, but that's it."

"So you connect with other railroads."

Bach nodded. "With the BNSF and the Union Pacific, with the big boys." Hunter furrowed his dark, arrow-straight eyebrows. "The Bridger is what's known as a short-line railroad. Is that correct, Mr. Bach?"

"A Class II railroad," Bach answered, using the official term. "As defined by the federal government," he added confidently, clearly believing there couldn't be a land mine buried anywhere in this field of questioning.


"Meaning," Bach continued, his voice taking on a professorial, condescending tone, "that we have annual revenues between $20 million and $280 million."

Hunter turned to the jury and let out a low whistle. "Wow. Two hundred and eighty million." It was so easy it was almost unfair, especially with the help he'd gotten from his anonymous benefactor. "That's big." To a New York jury that amount wouldn't sound very impressive. In Bozeman, Montana it sounded like the gross domestic product of most European countries. "Very big."

"Well, actually," Bach spoke up quickly, realizing he'd been backed into that same tight corner once again, "it isn't that -- "

"Mr. Bach," Hunter interrupted, "I don't want to keep you up here on the stand any longer than I have to. I know you're a busy man, and I know it's warm in here." Hunter broke into a friendly smile as he made eye contact with several jurors. Longest with an older woman wearing a faded blue dress and matching hat who was sitting all the way to the left of the jury box. He still hadn't won her over. He could tell that by her rigid posture, stiff upper lip, and cold expression. "Made a lot warmer," he continued, allowing his southern drawl to turn thicker and more potent, "by the fact that you're on the hot seat."

This time the courtroom erupted into a loud laugh. Even the older woman in the jury box cracked a thin smile.

The judge, too, Hunter noticed. Which fit. He'd been worried at the start of the trial that a Montana judge might make it difficult for a New York lawyer carrying a big reputation into his courtroom, but that hadn't turned out to be the case at all. The man in black had been completely fair, which Hunter had found was true about most Montanans. They were tough -- because Montana was a tough place to live -- but they were fair. Which was refreshing. It might help with the size of the award, too.

Hunter raised a hand, requesting silence, subtly taking control of the proceedings. Then he made a slow, sweeping gesture toward two chil...

Product Details

  • File Size: 479 KB
  • Print Length: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; Reprint edition (August 18, 2009)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002JPGQ4I
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,752 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Second-worst book I read this summer September 1, 2009
By Reader
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This one should have zero starts, if possible. I remember Stephen Frey as a decent writer--no Connelly or James Lee Burke, or even Sandford--but if you bought the paperback versions of his books you didn't feel cheated and were at least mildly entertained. His last two--Forced Out was another have just been terrible...silly plots, unbelievable coincidences holding story lines together, and shallow, selfish, and ridiculously stupid characters. What's really amazing is his endings, or lack thereof. It's as if he when tires of writing anymore, he uses any device or contrivance, kills off any character that would require a more thoughtful and believable ending, and just stops the story. I was foolish enough to pay the Kindle $9.99 price for Hell's Gate. It should have been titled "What the hell?" No more Frey for me.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars 'Hell's Gate' disappointing September 22, 2009
In the end Frey's latest thriller was disappointing. You can't lay out this detailed a plot with a multitude of possible villains and possible good guys and then wrap up the ending in 4 pages. Yes, the answers all fit neatly at the end but your villains are on the loose, the FBI hasn't captured anyone and a lot of good people have perished. Where is the satisfaction in that??
Stephen Bank
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The other 1-star reviews say it all. September 29, 2009
Lame plot, unbelievable characters, and a hurry up finish. It must be getting easier to publish a book nowadays.

BTW... no, the people in Montana are not like this.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bought on sale - glad of that August 1, 2011
I haven't read any of Frey's other books and "Hell's Gate" isn't going to be the impetus to make me run out and find any of those back copies.

There were some parts I enjoyed: the beginning trial scenes for one and I especially LOVED the "sit down and talk" divorce settlement talk (did NOT see that coming). I liked the geographical info about Montana and the fishing scenes.

But the fire fighting scenes were truncated and choppy; not very believable at all. The "romantic" scenes were laughable.

I'm glad I didn't pay full price for this but it was far from the worst book I've ever read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Whodunnit turns mundane March 11, 2010
As I was reading this book, I kept asking myself whether it was a three-star or four-star read. A long list of possible culprits in the setting of Montana forest fires kept my interest, and, for the most part, I found the main characters likable. The "Boardroom" scene involving the main character was particularly interesting. My main objection to the book (before I got to the end) was the nearly romance novel nature of the love interests of the "leading men."

However, when I got to the end, I truly saw my real objection to the book. The complicated plot and multiple layers of the deeds of nefarious villains gets stripped away in a matter of several explanatory pages that was entirely disappointing. A truly disappointing conclusion to a less than stellar book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Yuk! February 20, 2011
By td19
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Awesomely bad in every respect ... the hands-down winner for 'The worst novel I have read', and that includes some stinkers. Even ends with a character name typo on the final page (if you can make it that far). Avoid!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't waste your time. July 13, 2010
When you start this book, also start a diagram of the character connections, because there are too many to keep track of otherwise. Then the whole book seems to end in a few pages, and you won't know what happened to everyone.

Also, the fire-fighting seemed ridiculous. Every time they fought a fire, they were surprised that it spread, and killed or nearly killed. For all his smarts, the lead fire-fighter never puts out a fire.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kept me guessing until the very end! August 18, 2009
It's summer. Hot, dry, windy and Montana is burning. Hunter Lee, at the suggestion of his brother Strat, has left New York City, a failed marriage and an extremely successful junior partnership at a prestigious law firm behind and moved to Fort Mason, Montana. Hunter and his brother attempt to uncover the identity of who is behind the recent mega-fires that are destroying homes, thousands of acres of timber, farms, livestock and now human fatalities. Suspense builds throughout Stephen Frey's latest novel, Hell's Gate; the fires continue to burn while Hunter and Strat discover that even small towns are filled with incendiary secrets.

A few years ago, I was up in Montana visiting the in-laws, and my mom-in-law mentioned a friend of hers had just recently started up a company that supplies the wildfire and smokejumpers with meals, cots, showers and bathrooms. I remember thinking that a really shady, disreputable type could possibly use this type of contract with the Forest Service to really line their pockets if they figured out a way to start the fires. And that is part of the premise of Hell's Gate. When the author thought of how much money independent air cargo companies get paid to shuttle firefighters around the west during fire season, and how much food services get paid, he came to the same conclusion I did. It wouldn't be all that difficult to arrange a lot of fires and make lots of money. The question in this novel is who is doing this. Add to the air cargo company and food service company, a railroad who has just been hit with a 40 million dollar payout from a lawsuit, a timber mill going out of business from the lack of trees, a powerful Senator, unfaithful wife, vindictive business partner and you just have a whopper of a story.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars NOT set in least not the one I live in
I thought this book had promise when I started it, but then I started tripping over one error after another about Montana. Read more
Published 15 days ago by J. Lloyd
5.0 out of 5 stars A real thriller
Great story that kept me guessing on the ending.
Published 1 month ago by clark childers
5.0 out of 5 stars He'll's Gate
Excellent story,keeps you on your toes till the end. I highly recommend to anyone that reads high paced adventure novels.
Published 10 months ago by Walt Turner
4.0 out of 5 stars WOW
I read this book at the local library and enjoyed it so much that I bought the Kindle version for myself. I was surprised to see so many negative reviews of this book! Read more
Published 11 months ago by SawyerCannon
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read!
Again Frey weaves a good story. The main story line reminded me of the Vulture story line but the settings were intriguing.
Published 16 months ago by Bruce Skivington
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining read. Well expressed images of Montana-scapes.
Standard fare mystery with interesting settings. Frey does a good job of capturing the sense of first-contact with Montana people and places.
Published 21 months ago by Paul L.
4.0 out of 5 stars it held your interest.
i will definitely read more of his books . his characters were very interesting and they were very believable end
Published 21 months ago by Harry and Betty Mueller
1.0 out of 5 stars A potentially good story idea turned into a bad book
I listened to the audio book, which was adequately read and recorded. The author obviously doesn't know much about Montana or forest fires. Read more
Published 21 months ago by T. Steinborn
2.0 out of 5 stars Finish what you start.
Why would Frey write such an interesting and thrilling novel only to end with an unsatisfactory empty conclusion? It's as though he didn't even attempt to satisfy the reader.
Published 22 months ago by Kindle Customer
2.0 out of 5 stars No Happy ending
Do not like books with out a happy ending. This is the second book I read by Mr. frey, and that book also did not end well.
Published 22 months ago by Anthony Welninski
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More About the Author

Stephen Frey has written 18 novels. The latest, a political thriller entitled, ARCTIC FIRE, was published by Thomas & Mercer (Amazon Publishing) in October 2012. The sequel to ARCTIC FIRE, entitled RED CELL SEVEN, is scheduled for release by Thomas & Mercer in January 2014. The series follows the activities of RED CELL SEVEN, a top-secret intelligence group which has no formal reporting responsibilities to anyone inside the United States government and funds itself entirely with private sector money. Stephen is currently working on the third book in the series, KODIAK SKY, which is scheduled for release by Thomas & Mercer in January 2015.

Stephen began his career in finance, working at JP Morgan's New York City office in the mergers and acquisitions department before moving to Washington, DC in 1999 to work at Winston Partners in the group's private equity business. At Winston he led the investment into and chaired three of the firm's portfolio companies.

His first 14 novels involved the financial world, beginning with THE TAKEOVER which was published by Penguin Putnam in 1995.

In order, his other works are: THE VULTURE FUND (1996), THE INNER SANCTUM (1997), THE LEGACY (1998), THE INSIDER (1999), TRUST FUND (2001), THE DAY TRADER (2002), SILENT PARTNER (2003), SHADOW ACCOUNT (2004), THE CHAIRMAN (2005), THE PROTEGE (2005), THE POWER BROKER (2006); THE SUCCESSOR (2007), THE FOURTH ORDER (2007), FORCED OUT (2008), HELL'S GATE (2009) and HEAVEN'S FURY (2010). The first four novels were published by Penguin Putnam, the next 10 by Random House, the next 3 by Simon & Schuster and Stephen is published by Thomas & Mercer.

Stephen lives in northern Virginia, is an avid fisherman and has three wonderful daughters: Christina, Ashley and Gabriella.

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