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It's been a while since I've picked up a contemporary adventure thriller that was fresh, original, compelling and, above all, enjoyable to read. I had started losing faith in the genre given the recently pedestrian efforts of the likes of Dan Brown, Clive Cussler and Sam Bourne and was despairing of finding a worthy new flag bearer for this kind of story.
Like some of the more scarcely believable plot developments used to drive the story in some of more formulaic drivel I have waded through recently, I found a ray of light in the most unlikely of places. Our son had just been born and my wife was to be kept in observation for at least three days to recover from her C-section, so I wandered down to the hospital charity bookshop and randomly picked up a paperback that had a compelling looking cover.
I wasn't expecting quality - just something to pass the time - however, what I ended up with was a classy yarn from a writer totally new to me - a story that left me hungry for more. The book was "The Lost Throne", and the talented story-teller was Chris Kuzneski.
"The Lost Throne" is the fourth of Chris Kuzneski's five novels, the latest being "The Prophecy" which was published last month (October 2009) and is still in the upper echelons of the British paperback fiction charts.
Like Clive Cussler's iconic duo of Dirk Pitt and Al Giordano, each of his books features the recurring central pairing of Jonathon Payne and David "DJ" Jones - a couple of ex-soldiers who used to be part of an elite military unit called the MANIACS (Yes - I sniggered too - but this fictional unit apparently stands for "Marines Army Navy Intelligence Air Force and Coast Guard).
There are a couple of other recurring characters - Randy Raskin, a computer researcher at the Pentagon who provides the pair (sometimes ever so conveniently) with a means of accessing classified information in a hurry, and also Nick Dial, director of the homicide division at Interpol (based in Lyon) who can't resist getting his hands dirty with field work.
The book, published by Penguin in 2008, runs to just under six hundred pages and has an RRP of £6.99. However, it is currently available on Amazon for just over £4 with free delivery, or, if you are feeling green, you can get it for around £3.75 second-hand from greenmetropolis.com.
The story develops in two parallel strands. In Greece, an ancient Greek Orthodox monastery is invaded by men dressed as Spartans, who massacre the monks inside in cold blood. In St Petersburg, a historian who is hot on the trail of an ancient treasure first described by the legendary Heinrich Schliemann (discoverer of Ancient Troy) is assassinated with brutal efficiency at Peter's Winter Palace as his horrified assistant - Allison Taylor - watches from afar.
In the first case, Interpol agent Nick Dial tries to get to the bottom of the murders in Greece with the help of a an eager young local policeman, Marcus Andropolous, while back in St Petersburg, the two ex-special forces operatives are called in to help extract Taylor from mortal danger. The two strands eventually converge, bringing all of the main characters together for the pacy, tautly written finish.
After being introduced briefly to Payne and Jones - and reading the cringe worthy acronym MANIACS - I was beginning to wonder whether the book would be another formulaic Clive Cussler or Dan Brown wannabe - i.e. a complete waste of time - especially as it was apparent early on that the two main characters had already been through an adventure or two together.
However, the author provides just about enough background on the two to ensure that new readers are not alienated, while hinting at past adventures in a way that piques your interest in reading more about them. Of the two, Payne is the better developed and throughout the book, the author gives you glimpses of a driven, intense and complex character without straying into caricature. DJ Jones is clearly the number two in the relationship and provides a nice foil for Payne during the story.
Along with Payne, the character of Nick Dial shares equal billing as the focal character pursuing the murder investigation in Greece. His introduction is a little contrived - but once you get beyond why an Interpol director would be doing fieldwork in what starts out as a domestic case - his relationship with local policeman Andropoulos is nicely developed and there is a plausible chemistry between the two characters.
The action is nicely paced and the parallel story - usually told in alternating chapters - is well engineered. After taking me a little while to get into the story - which had more to do with the constant interruptions I had when reading it in hospital - it turned into a genuine page turner. The historical elements are interwoven into the action quite skilfully and realistically (keeping in mind that everything is relative in this genre!) and the novel is thankfully largely absent of those unrealistic "roll the eyes" moments that can spoil a good story.
It was a thoroughly entertaining read, but not without one or two niggles. Allison Taylor, as a character, is not well developed and seems more like a plot device to provide useful information (and background to the reader) at vital times than as any kind of strong female lead. There is the hint of romance between her and Payne, but thankfully, Kuzneski realises that his target audience would have seen any real action as a sideshow and resists the temptation of inserting an awkward assignation between the two for the sake of it.
We are also introduced to a Finnish rogue called Jarkko halfway into the novel, a caricature of a hard-drinking, fast-living rogue of a smuggler faintly reminiscent of a cross between Han Solo and Captain Haddock from the Tin Tin cartoons. That said, he definitely adds flavour and humour, so I am not complaining too much.
There were one or two places where just the right thing has to happen to ensure that the protagonists can proceed with the next plot development - such as the right thing turning up, or an opportune mode of transport becoming available - but this does not really detract from the storytelling and the author can easily be forgiven his one or two liberties.
I was pleasantly surprised by "The Lost Throne". I had not heard of Kuzneski before, but will definitely be reading more of his books ("The Sword of God" is currently on order from greenmetropolis.com). I picked mine up for a bargain 50p, but it would have been well worth the four quid it is currently selling for on Amazon (who pays full price for books these days anyway?)
Although lacking a little of the charisma and chemistry of a Pitt and Giordano, (to be fair, Clive Cussler has had twenty years and almost as many books to develop them!) Payne and Jones - as well as the supplementary character of Nick Dial - are characters well worthy of inheriting the well-worn crown of Cussler's dynamic duo, and Kuzneski deserves a fair bit of credit for that.
In a crowded genre where every numpty with a pen and a gullible publisher seems to want to churn out clones of The Da Vinci Code in the hope of striking it rich, it's nice to find some quality amongst the dross currently afflicting our book shops. A worthwhile read for fans of the genre, and as such, highly recommended.
© Hishyeness 2009
When a Monastry high on the hills of a Greek Island is attacked and the occupants are killed there seems to be no reason for the horrid act. Each of the Monks had been beheaded and their bodies thrown from the cliff, taking the secret they'd been killed for their grave. Across Europe in Russia Richard Byrd fears for his life and calls upon the help of ex Special forces operatives Jonathan Payne and David Jones. He is about to discover the location of an ancient treasure but the protectors of the treasure will stop at nothing to prevent its discovery.
This is the second of Kuzneski's novel's I've come across recently and I have to admit that I have thoroughly enjoyed both of them. Having picked up his first novel Sign of the Cross on a 3 for 2 offer I asked my fiancé to get me The Lost Throne for Christmas last year. This is the third in Kuzneski's novels following the adventures of Interpol agent Nick Dial and former American Special Forces agents Jonothan Payne and David Jones.
While this is the third book in the series following these characters I was still quite impressed with Kuzneski's character descriptions. He seems to accept that this will be the first time some people come across his lead characters. Rather than rehash all the information about them he gives you enough information so as not to re hash it all for anyone whose read his previous books but enough to give newcomers a good idea of his leads. He also adds in some new bit of information or background on them to give returning readers a little extra information for having to read the introductions again.
This tactic works well for me and gives a brief recap on the main characters. I've found with similar books that authors just assume you'll remember every detail about the main characters, but the way he does it gives you a nice reminder of who they are. He sees to build his characters well and gives them an easily accessible personality that makes them all incredibly easy to read about. The introduction of the new characters for the purpose of this story works well and again like his leads he seems to have given them a personality and appeal of their own. He makes you interested in the fate of his characters and I feel this makes for a good read.
By making you care about his characters and the plot they've got themselves wound up in it keeps your interest. I found myself on many occasions picking the book up whenever I could, even if I could only fit a couple of pages in. His writing style flows quite easily and draws you into his story making it a pleasure to read his novels rather than a chore. He sticks to the subtly religious subjects and his work could easily be compared to that of Dan Brown and Sam Bourne. I fell however that Kuzneski has found a good formula with his leads that work well and while there are similarities to Brown et all he does stand out on his own very well.
Just like his first novel it seems that Kuzneski has kept up the high standards he set himself in his debut. There is a real feeling that these books would make good movies as well and perhaps it's only a matter of time before we see one of Kuzneski's books making it to the big screen. It is a very addictive read and one of the few books I've read recently that I just couldn't put down. There were no real disadvantages to the book and I think anyone who enjoys the current trend for mystery solving and ancient treasure hunts will thoroughly enjoy The Lost Throne.
Amazon Marketplace: £0.01
ISBN - 978-0141037073
The Lost Throne is a stunning return to form for Chris Kuzneski after the slightly under whelming 'Sword of God' (and by Under whelming i mean better than most in the genre but not up to the standard of the breath takingly brilliant 'Sign of the Cross'). it's a novel which brissles with action and humour and just begs to have a hollywood block buster made out of it.
Kuzneski once again chronicals the adventures of retired Special ops officers Jonathon Payne and Dave Jones this time as they travel to Europe to investigate the mystery of a murdered proffeser. Once again they run in to a plot with huge magnitude (and a pretty girl who needs saving) and they'll need all there skills to get out of this one.
Yes the plot is a little familiar,and some will say the historical thriller has been done to death but with the freshness of kuzneski's writing and the depth of the research that has gone in to the plot none of that really matters.
So pick up the book and tell Dan Brown to suck it causethis book will keep you entertained for hours.
Some of you may not have heard of this rising new American author, Chris Kuzneski, now with four books under his belt. He started with the Plantation, a book yet to have been released in the UK, and was followed by Sign of the Cross (2006), Sword of God (2007) and now The Lost Throne (2008). I have spoken to Chris by e-mail, after I had read The Lost Throne, and had to tell him how awesome it was, and he could do with all the reviews he can get, so I thought, for a first review, lets see if I can do him justice.
I came across Kuzneski when I worked at John Lewis, in the PDR (partners dining room) there was a selection of books to read, and since I was on a bit of a diet a distraction always helps. I flicked through to see if there was anything decent and found Angels and Demons, the Dan Brown sequel to The Da' Vinci Code. Angles and Demons is out on film this year, so thought I would get ahead and give the book a read, since something I have learnt from Harry Potter, the films are NEVER anywhere near as good as the books.
But a few hundred pages in, and a couple of weeks later, Angels and Demons disappeared, I searched the bookcase over and over, and was gutted since I had just got to the real action of the book. Alas! What was I to do? I scoured the shelves for something else to read and found Sign of the Cross , his first UK release. The cover looked good, and reading the blurb I was taken. I read the first few pages and realised it was very similar to the way Brown writes his books, and to be honest, I first thought that he was perhaps riding on the back of Brown's success, but with more of an American tone of writing... too many "God-damn's" rather than the more English eloquence of "fuck". However I persevered, and completely proved my first thoughts wrong, this book was awesome.
Unfortunately, it faced the same ending as Angels and Demons, and the book just disappeared from the shelves, so heartbroken I had to find yet another read, which became Lindwood Barclay's fantastic book "No Time for Goodbye".
After Christmas, I decided it was time to spend some of that Christmas money and get myself some new books, so off into the sales I went, aiming to find Sign of the Cross , so I could continue where I had left off. Unfortunately, both my local Waterstones' were barren of the book, so I returned home with Lindwood Barclay's book instead, to read at my leisure. But when I went to Tesco in the New Year, sat on the shelves for the bargain price of £3.86 (or two books for £7) was The Lost Throne, an offer I thought was too good to miss.
Since I was re-doing some exams to improve my A-Levels, the excitement of a new book had to wait, pushed sideways in favour of revision. But not for long...
The day of my final exam, I packed the book in my bag for the bus ride home, which takes a good two hours, and what with the waiting for a bus at Starbucks, a good book twinned with some good music is the perfect way to pass some time. Now the hard part of a review, to tell you about the book without ruining the story for you...
One of the things I love about this book, and his others is the way he tells his stories, split into 76 chapters, plus a prologue and epilogue totalling in at 590 pages, a book that some may find a daunting read. Kuzneski runs as many as three stories at once, and if you do chuck in the prologue at the beginning then really you have four. Four stories running in parallel, each as awe capturing as the next.
Jones and Payne are on holiday in Florida, the two best friends and ex-MANIACs star in all four of the books Kuzneski has written, and as with any talented author, you gain more perspective into their characters throughout the series. In the middle of the night Payne received a call, which in his dream like state he didn't answer, and fell easily back to sleep, but during the course of the next days, he received no fewer than 17 calls, all at regular intervals.. Someone was trying to get hold of him, and you can tell it isn't just his mother!
So who is trying to get hold of him with such eagerness?
Richard Byrd has nearly uncovered the location of a magnificent treasure, a secret which has been underground for years, kept close to the chests of its keepers, keepers with the wisdom to protect it at all costs. What is it that Byrd has discovered, and will he manage to leave Russia with his research assistant, the beautiful and intelligent Allison Taylor.
His discovery perhaps isn't only known to him though.
Nick Dial, the head of the homicide division of Interpol is used to being called to strange murder scenes, having witnessed the crucifixion of Monks a few years ago, even so visiting the Monastery of the Holy Temple at Meteora, Greece brings grave intrigue and millions of questions. Was this a crime of religion, something Interpol avoid, or is it more.
Who killed all these monks in such a specific manner?
That is all of the story line I am giving away, and if that hasn't captured your interest then my last hopes rely on his skill as a writer. The first page in the book acknowledges all the help Kuzneski received while writing the book, and one can tell that a great deal of research has gone into it. One thing I noticed when I wrote a story for my GCSE coursework a few years ago, was that to write a proper convincing story you need to have all the details about everything you write about, detail is everything.
Kuzneski has clearly spend months researching the stories in this book, from his in depth portrayal of the traditions of the ancient Sparti warriors, the details about the 19th century archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, and the understanding of the locations he uses. It isn't just a story that he writes, you actually learn from it too, a rare thing with many fiction books. Again it becomes another thing that he shares with the books of Brown.
One thing I have only touched on briefly is his style as a writer. His use of multiple story lines running in tandem creates a continued suspense unlike anything I have ever experienced in a book. The cliffhanger ending of a chapter, where you want to know what the Coat means or what they will find in that little cave. It far surpasses the suspense you can feel in a well directed film. Each chapter you don't want to end, you want to stick with Jones and Payne, to see what they find out, but as soon as your cast back into the story with Dial, it becomes all that matters, and you become so engrossed with that part of the story you completely forget that the next page is going to hold that information that kept you clinging onto the pages before.
In summary, Chris Kuzneski is an author you have to read, whether you're after a book to chill out with, a book for your holidays later in the year, or something to read on the train, this is it. Trust me it is one of those amazing pieces you will not be able to put down, it kept me reading late into the night, only stopping when my eyes drooped to the point where I was having to read a page twice before my exhausted mind could take it in properly. The only thing I can hope for, is that these books are soon made into a film, because I guarantee that they would make action packed, suspenseful thrillers which will have people queuing at the door.
On his website, Kuzneski has been compared to Dan Brown:
"Sign of the Cross is a religious thriller. Were you trying to cash in on The Da Vinci Code?"
But he had completed the first draft of Sign of the Cross before he'd heard of Dan Brown, having come up with the plot in the late 1990's. Since Brown hit the mainstream before him, and the fact that they share a similar writing style, it is likely that it will be a while before Kuzneski can completely shed the stigma of the comparison, however in my opinion, there is no contest. Kuzneski wipes the floor with Brown, having created a vastly better written, more interesting series of novels.
What Other People Say
Don't just take my word for it, here is what other people say about the book, taken from his website www.chriskuzneski.com.
John Case, New York Times bestselling author-
"THE LOST THRONE reads like an AK-47 on laughing-gas, as Kuzneski runs a gauntlet of mystery and mayhem, wisecracking all the way."
James O. Born, national bestselling author-
"Part Tom Clancy, part Dan Brown, THE LOST THRONE is fast, fun, and exciting!"
Alyn Evans (United Kingdom)-
"Just thought I'd congratulate you on writing a thoroughly entertaining book. I don't want to sound like I'm trying to kiss your ass, but THE LOST THRONE is definitely the best book I've read in a long time (probably since SIGN OF THE CROSS!!!)"
Robin Fearn (United Kingdom)-
"Just wanted to say thanks for three of the best books that I've ever read. I'm currently enjoying SWORD OF GOD, hot on the heels of finishing THE LOST THRONE and SIGN OF THE CROSS. . . I'm no expert reviewer, but the reason I find your work so good is the pace of the action that you sustain throughout the books, combined with just enough info about the characters and the settings without getting weighed down. . . Keep up the great work!"
Stan Hill (United Kingdom)-
"I just read THE LOST THRONE and I must congratulate you on a brilliant book. There was not a chapter in it that did not keep me fully interested. I would love to see it made into a film."