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A few weeks ago I was looking in my bookshelves for something good to read before bed but couldn't find anything that I either hadn't read or that took my interest. I ended up rereading an old copy of Empire Magazine.
The next time I popped round to my parents house, I mentioned that I was in need of a good book. As it happened, my mum had two books she and my Dad had just read and thought were great. One was a Jeffrey Archer (a great author whatever you think of him) the other by an author I'd never heard of, Chris Kuzneski, called Sign of the Cross. My mum described it as similar to The Davinci Code, quite exciting and easy to read. I borrowed both books.
At the start of Sign of the Cross there is a blurb about the Author and how he came to write this book. His first book, The Plantation, was published by a small publiushers in 2002, and luckily was read by someone at a publishing house who enjoyed it and wanted to read more of the main characters.
Having read up a bit about Chris Kuzneski, I found out that he has since published a further 3 books which have done very well in the best seller charts.
This book, his second novel features as the central characters a duo that he introduced in his first book, Jonathon Payne and David 'DJ' Jones. They are both retired Special Forces officers from an elite and extremely highly trained group called the MANIACs (Marines Army Navy Intelligence Air Force and Coast Guard).
Having retired from the apecial forces, Jonathon Payne is the CEO of the family business, Payne Industries, a technology company. We are told duringt he book that Layne didn't really want to be a part of the family business, instead wanting to make his way in the world alone rather than relying on the backing of his wealthy family but when his parents passed away he felt obligated to take over the reigns of the business.
Jones was Paynes second-in-command in the forces and the two are best friends. He is also retired from the forces. Payne wanted to help his friend out and now Jones runs a detective agency which Payne helped him finance.
The pair are both in great physical shape and have a love of extreme sports and other such adventurous things which they do to try to give the adrenaline highs they used to feel during dangerous top secret operations. It is during one such trip, to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. That they end up in a situation which leads to a dangerous
adventure they probably would rather not have gotten involved with.
The story although featuring this rough and tough action duo, has several strands which twist and turn until they come together in a very satisfying way.
In addition to Payne and Jones, the story features a pair of Archeologists, who make a startling discovery, an interpol agent investigating a series of unusual murders and a quite mysterious man who works for the Vatican...
To write much about the actual plot line would be a disservice to the author as he has done really well in creating several threads of the story and manages to intertwine them to great effect, to create a strong and cohesive narative, not like some multi-threaded stories I have read which come together and form a knot! Suffice to say, the story is exciting, intriguing and moves along at good pace, never dragging nor leaving you feeling like you've been left behind.
One thing I would mention, is the fact that despite the main characters, Payne and Jones being ex-military, this is not a military based story, so if you're looking for a war based book this will not be for you. There is however some pretty darn good action!!!
A short piece from Chris Kuzneski at the back of the book answers a few questions people have asked him, one of which is, how much and what parts of his work are fact and what is fiction? His answer is that he won't answer that because in the world of the book it is all real..also it is more intriguing as you read through the book. Knowing that there is at least some truth in the historial references and that some is fictional does get the brain ticking pretty well and allows the world of the book to not be confined to sometimes dull facts!
I really enjoyed reading this book and found it pretty hard to put down once it really got going, which I have to say, does not take long! When I finished it I was pleased to find out that Kuzneski has written more books, and even more pleased to find that they feature Payne and Jones. Having read a lot of Andy McNab books featuring his Nick Stone character, I have discovered that I really enjoy reading more and more about known characters as it allows the author to develop them much more than in a one off book as they can draw from past experiences that you as the reader all aware of. I am very much looking forward to getting hold of the follow up books and have no doubt that they will be just as exciting!
If I had to make any kind of critiscism about the book, the only thing I would say is that not everyone will get on with the style of the writing, which at times is rather, for want of a better phrase, cheesey, in particular some of the dialogue between Payne and Jones, had me wincing as it was a little cringe-worthy. Also, anyone wanting a really intellectual read will be disappointed, this is an easy read, which personally I like as I don't really want reading to be a battle, I want it to be nice and simple...especially as I tend to read just before going to sleep.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading more of Kuzneski's work!!!
You can't blame Chris Kuzneski. It must be hard for a new author to get published, so what better way to increase your chances than to ride on the coat-tails of the current literary fad? Which is exactly what he's done; cashing in on the Da Vinci Code to write yet another "religious mystery book".
In terms of originality, it's not exactly what the world of popular literature needed and it proves frustrating and interesting in equal measure. The plot ticks just about every cliché box possible. Two former special ops soldiers? Check. University professor on the trail of a religious artefact? Check. Characters with Hidden Secrets and A Past? That would be a check. A discovery with major repercussions for religion? Checkity check. Clues scattered across the globe? Check, check and check again.
What it lacks in originality, it completely fails to make up for in suspense. It is incredibly predictable and you can spot what's going to happen a mile off. This might come as a shock to Mr. Kuzneski who seems to think he has carefully hidden his "secrets". He takes great pleasure from gradually uncovering them to reveal the full extent of the conspiracy.
Despite attempts to make him appear nicey-nicey, for example, the chief bad guy is obvious from the first time you meet him. The secret he holds is also obvious, thanks to a blatant anagram that will fox crossword addicts for approximately 0.01 nanoseconds and maybe tax the rest of us for a whole second. It's a shame, really, because Kuzneski genuinely seems to believe that he has constructed a complex mystery and that his grand revelation will be a huge shock. The reality is that by the time Kuzneski finally shows his hand, most people will have had it all worked out for at least 200 pages.
This is probably the key criticism of Sign of the Cross - it is far, far, far too long. In his author introduction, Kuzneski thanks his editing team who got his original draft down from 711 pages to 523. A more exacting team was needed. Sign of the Cross contains too much additional, unnecessary information. At times, it reads more like a guide book or a history book than a novel.
Obviously, some background information is needed to establish the atmosphere and make the plot sound vaguely credible, but Kuzneski goes totally overboard. It's almost as if, during the course of his research, he found out all this information and is determined to share it with you, regardless of its relevance. There is also an unnecessary sub-plot which actually feels like it belongs in another book and which only becomes (semi) relevant right towards the end.
At a conservative estimate, I would say that it needed to lose at least 100 more pages. Certainly, I was starting to get bored of it long before the end. I'd worked out exactly who was trying to do what do whom and why, but was forced to wade my way unnecessary verbiage before I could finally see if I was right.
The fact that it all pans out exactly as you thought is no great surprise. What is more disappointing is that Kuzneski doesn't have the courage of his convictions and refuses to take the book to its logical conclusion. Having spent the entire novel leading you in one, highly controversial direction, he pulls his punch right at the last minute. The badly thought out epilogue robs the book of any potential impact and leaves the reader feeling conned. Whether this abrupt u-turn is the result of cold feet, or whether it is meant to be a "surprise twist", I don't know. What I do know is that it proves totally anti-climactic.
So given that it's too long, has a predictable plot and lacks originality, why has it got 3 stars? Well, for all the problems, Kuzneski shows some promise. He is obviously an author still learning his craft and has a long way to go, but he certainly shows that he's got the raw talent to make it.
For a start he generally has a very readable style. Take out the extraneous information and he knows how to tell a story that zips along at a fair old pace, with regular cliff-hangers built in to keep interest levels high. He successfully employs the age old tactic of ending a chapter on a cliff-hanger, then switching the focus to a different character, forcing the reader to wait anxiously to find out the fate of the first. His narrative is well constructed and pulls the reader in. There were several times when I decided I'd put the book down at the end of the current chapter, only to find myself tempted into reading just one more. This is always the sign of a good book and a good author.
Stylistically, he did have one really annoying habit: his tendency to tell his readers what was going to happen. He'd often end chapters with (for example) a character saying "I think that's more than enough excitement for one day", before concluding the paragraph with "Little did they know that less than an hour later, things would become more exciting still." I understand that he is trying to build tension, but for me it did the opposite and sucked all the tension out of the book.
Kuzneski sometimes risks alienating some of his readers, displaying a somewhat xenophobic attitude to anyone non-American. The book is mostly set in Europe and there are lots of digs at the "inferior" health, style, personal hygiene and intelligence of Europeans. OK, so the book was probably written with an American audience in mind, but there's not much sense in being offensive to other potential readers.
If you haven't had enough of religious conspiracies and don't feel your life will be complete until you read another, The Sign of the Cross offers enough to satisfy. Kuzneski is maybe someone to keep an eye on, as he clearly has plenty of raw talent. Whether he can hone that to create a really great book remains to be seen.
Sign of the Cross
© Copyright SWSt 2009
Those of you who read my first review since I re-joined the site, on Chris Kuzneski's 'The Lost Throne' will know that he is a write I was instantly taken with. So much so that I hunted down his previous two books, 'Sign of the Cross' and 'Sword of God'.
Originally, I began reading 'Sign of the Cross' when I worked at John Lewis. It was after I had began reading Dan Brown's 'Angels and Demons' which soon disappeared while I was half way through, gutted, I searched the shelves for something new to read, and I saw this book, the cover bent from someone carelessly reading it, the embossed lettering on the front, with the subtitle "No Secret will Keep for ever", well now, I was intrigued, and turned the book over to see what the blurb said..
"A Vatican priest is found murdered on the shores of Denmark....." well, I was taken, I took the book to my comfortable seating, got myself a Coke Zero, and sat down to read. Unfortunately, after a week or so, the book suffered the same fate as 'Angels and Demons' and disappeared from the shelves forever....
It wasn't until I saw 'The Lost Throne' in Tesco for £4, that my interests were spiked again, and I read the third book in the series, which was amazing (see my review if you are interested). After completing the book, I was left with a bit of a void, needing something else to read, so went online to see what I could get as cheap as possible.
I ordered the four Dan Brown books from eBay for a total of something like £7, and on Amazon, I found 'Sign of the Cross' and 'The Sword of God', each for just.. £0.01, yes, that is right, a penny each, plus the £2.50 or whatever postage, but a bargain nonetheless, and the books were in great condition.
Ok, now onto the book itself...
'Sign of the Cross' was the first UK book released by Chris Kuzneski, an amazing writer from America, it was released in 2006, and became quite popular, but still overshadowed by the likes of Dan Brown's work. It was even compared to 'Da Vinci Code' several times, some people suggesting he was just riding off Dan Brown's success, which wasn't true, albeit what I initially thought when I began reading the book to start with.
The book runs to a total of 607 perfectly written pages, and has something like 77 chapters, which are short and sweet, and keep the pace of the book perfectly smooth.
Sign of the Plot...
The book centres around 3 groups of characters, their stories running parallel, merging later in the book. First off, you have Nick Dial, head of the Homicide Division at Interpol, is called to a beach in Denmark, near to the castle where Hamlet was set. A Vatican priest, is dead, murdered, and nailed to a cross. Above him, the sign, "in the name of the father".
Why was a Vatican priest so far from Italy?
Why was he crucified the exact same as Jesus?
And what does the sign mean?
Then there is Payne and Jones, ex MANIAC's, the highly trained, super secret forces of the USA. They are imprisoned in Spain, arrested for no apparent reason, unless it was something from their past. The local police show no intention of letting them out, and with their past records, the USA are unlikely to want any publicity from getting involved.
Why were they imprisoned?
What will they have to do to get out?
Finally, there is Dr. Charles Boyd and his assistant Maria. Busy, delving deep into the mythical catacombs of Orvieto, the secret hiding place of the Pope hundreds of years ago, as they delve further, Boyd finds exactly what he was looking for, but before they can leave, it seems they have some visitors...
What did Boyd find, and what is he hiding?
Who is after them, and what do they want?
Kuzneski's Writing and My Opinion
Instantly, as soon as I read 'The Lost Throne', Kuzneski moved up to the top of my favourite authors list. While, one could say that it is very similar to Dan Brown's, what with the short chapters, switching between stories, eventually entwining them, that is where the comparison ends.
Kuzneski has much more power behind his style of writing, he doesn't waste sentences, he doesn't mash his words, the stories he writes are to the point, which is all the better when they are 600 pages... that is 600 pages of precise meaningful writing, as opposed to Dan Brown, who could spend a page rambling about some random fact, showing off the fact that he spend a week researching something, rather than, like Kuzneski, slotting it gently into the plot, making it seem an intrinsic part of the story.
The 'Sign of the Cross' was an intensely gripping read, while I don't think it was quite as good as 'The Lost Throne', it was definitely better than 'Sword of God', and smashed Dan Brown's books into the ground.
The twists and turns the plot takes are brilliant, turning the page brings an excitement, the end of chapters leave you either flabbergasted at what you have just learned, or eager to find out what is about to happen - but Kuzneski teases by flicking to another part of the story, which ends up being just as gripping as the last. The reader is constantly running from story to story, until they gradually meet in the middle, combining into something so dramatic and enthralling, that it would make a film which could crap on anything Dan Brown's books are made into.
I really recommend that you go out and get some of Kuzneski's books, for anyone who is a fan of Dan Brown's work - you will be impressed, and anyone who likes a good book, filled with interesting information, great twists, well developed characters and a plot so well written it reads like a film - go out, and buy it!
You can get it from:
Amazon, used = £2.76 inc postage or New = £5.73
Or look in your local Waterstones or Borders - the RRP is £6.99
Chris Kuzneski is fast becoming one of the best authors in the conspiracy theory/historical DaVinci code style books.
The difference, however, over most other books out there is that the central characters are genuine kick ass heroes. There are the accidental heroes in the book as well, but you always know that they will be rescued.
This book is a real page turner, and I would strongly recommend that if you are on holiday with it , then you must have a back up.
I won't spoil the plot by giving to detailed a synopsis, but it starts with a mysterious of a Priest in Denmark which appears to be unrelated to events taking place in Orvieto, Italy. Soon into the plot you get introduced to Payne who is some kind of American Special forces hero. he will appear in more of Kuzneski's books. As will the Interpol inspector investigating the priests death.