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The Lost Throne Crowns a New King Of Adventure
The Lost Throne - Chris Kuzneski
Member Name: Hishyeness
The Lost Throne - Chris Kuzneski
Date: 22/11/09, updated on 22/11/09 (161 review reads)
Advantages: Tautly written. Plausible and engaging characters. A genuine page-turner.
Disadvantages: One or two contrived plot developments.
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
Summary: A well-written. lightning-paced adventure thriller well worth a read.