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New Heroes Germinate On The Plantation
The Plantation - Chris Kuzneski
Member Name: Hishyeness
The Plantation - Chris Kuzneski
Advantages: Tautly paced, genuine tension, original plot and satisfying payoff.
Disadvantages: Some of the characters could do with more development.
THE KUZNESKI CANON
I have thoroughly enjoyed my trawl through the entire published works of Chris Kuzneski, and, although that doesn't sound nearly as worthy as a similar trek through the collected works of, say, Thomas Hardy, it has been a worthwhile enterprise. In back to front fashion, I ended my journey at the beginning - with Kuzneski's first book - The Plantation. However, I do have a flimsy excuse. Although The Plantation was the first novel Kuzneski ever wrote, it wasn't his first published work. That milestone belongs to "Sign of the Cross" which was released by his publisher first to capitalise from the mass interest generated by Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code".
ONCE UPON A TIME...
The Plantation introduces the reader to the dynamic duo that sit at the heart of every Kuzneski book to date - Jonathon Payne and David Jones. Although both play an integral part in the novel(s), Payne is definitely the Alpha male, with Jones as his sidekick - think Batman and Robin, but without the silly costumes. These guys are best buddies from their time in the military, serving with a covert special and "black" operations team drawn from the best the American forces have to offer (the fictional "MANIACS" - Marines, Army, Navy, Intelligence, Air Force and Coast Guard - and yes, I thought it was just as corny as you thinking now).
In any event, Payne's plans for relaxing long weekend playing golf with his stereotypically stunning but down to earth girlfriend (with a bit of get up and go and brains about her - did I mention clichéd?) are rudely interrupted when she goes missing. Enlisting the assistance of his mate, he and Jonesy, who Payne has set up in business as a PI, go about trying to track her down. They quickly find out she has been kidnapped, but not by who and for what reason. The search leads them to New Orleans in relatively quick time, where the story really takes off. Given the background of the two main protagonists, it's not long before their special forces training - replete with interesting ordnance and a few MacGyver moments - comes in very handy.
In parallel, we are also introduced, very early on, to the villains of the piece - a shadowy organisation hell bent on revenge and who appear to revel in the sadistic torture - both physical and psychological - of their captives. However, little is revealed about what these bad guys are up to, which keeps the reader guessing as to their real intent and purpose. Needless to say, the two strands of the story converge in a rip-roaring finale.
Having read his previous work, The Plantation surprisingly doesn't feel like a first effort. Part of that is down to the fact that it was partly re-written and updated after the commercial success of his first two books. Although this was his "first" novel, it was the third published, so the author had the chance to go back and, in his own words, cut out "several mistakes rookie writers tend to make". The story seems to have benefitted from a bit of polish and restraint, making it a taut, tightly paced and suspenseful thriller that really is a joy to read.
There are several scenes in the book that unflinchingly portray graphic violence, yet as the author explains in his notes, none of it is gratuitous and each has a specific and justifiable purpose. Kuzneski also shows a real talent for building up tension - the kind where you really want to turn the page to find out what happens, but at the same time, are not sure you really want to know.
Kuzneski spends a fair bit of time fleshing out his main characters, but you don't really get to know them until you have read more of his books. As such, I rather suspect that for the first time reader, the dynamic duo may come across as slightly two dimensional. That said, this best buddy relationship seems to work pretty well even if it is highly reminiscent of Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt and Al Giordano (i.e. fully paid up members of the "laugh and wisecrack in the face of impending peril" brigade). It's a testament to Kuzneski's writing ability that despite the inevitable comparisons to similar characters by more established authors, he manages to give his heroes a distinct personality and style.
As for Payne's girlfriend, the near-perfect Ariane, it's not that she doesn't make for a decent damsel in distress, but she is never really developed at all, and is patently a plot device to push the story along. The consequence is that the reader does not really develop any kind of emotional investment in the search and rescue for her.
Fortunately, the same can't be said of Payne and Jones' sinister adversaries, who are very well characterised and quickly earn the readers dislike - by the end, you are desperately hoping that they get what is coming to them. It would have been very easy to cross the line into the realms of pantomime with these unsavoury "gentlemen" but Kuzneski's approach remains restrained throughout. He gives you a glimmer of insight into the twisted rationale for their behaviour - just enough tot transform them from cartoonish to truly frightening.
The plot is well developed and keeps you guessing throughout, but no so much that you don't anticipate the threads of the tale coming together. I like authors who slightly telegraph the story developments, but keep one or two twists back to add genuine surprise elements. That way, you feel clever about having worked things out to a degree, but not so much that it spoils the payoff.
The Plantation was a cracking and genuinely original story which I enjoyed reading from start to finish. It is a tautly paced and very well written, with a satisfying payoff which leaves the reader wanting to read more. While it's tempting to say I seem to have saved the best for last, I think I enjoyed "The Lost Throne" a little bit more . That said, I would place this a solid second in the Kuzneski canon.
Berkley Publishing Group
RRP £5.18 (Available on Amazon as at 05/2010 for £3.76)
© Hishyeness 2010
Summary: His first work, his third book and his second best.