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The Prophecy is the latest thriller from no-nonsense author Chris Kuzneski. It sees the return of his successful retired Special Forces soldiers Payne and Jones. This time, the pair pit their wits against ancient mystic Nostradamus, doing their usual thing of going around the world hunting for, and finding clues that will lead them to some prize or other. Meanwhile, of course, there are various people trying to stop and/or kill them for various reasons.
So far, so formulaic. It's pretty much the same pattern that Kuzneski has applied ever since his first novel, and clearly he subscribes to that ancient Roman wisdom "Si fractum non sit, noli id reficere". * The plot is shallow and superficial and many of the developments can be seen coming a mile off. The book contains relatively little by way of surprises.
As ever, the book gets away with it due to the sheer sense of fun and camaraderie from its leading protagonists, Jon Payne and David Jones (or DJ for short). These two banter and bicker like an old married couple and their repartee is often extremely amusing and gives the book a real sense of life. Characterisation is kept to a minimum (even after four books, I still have to stop and think which is which) so that it doesn't get in the way of either the action or the infectious exuberance of the pair. Kuzneski makes them so likeable that even when they kill people (sometimes without mercy or warning) it doesn't make a tiny bit of different to how you view them.
If the main characters are barely fleshed out, it should come as no surprise to learn that the support characters fare even less well. All the key characters from the earlier books (Nick Dial, Peter Ulster, Randy Raskin) feature to some extent or another, although like the main characters, don't expect to learn any more about them than the basics you already know.
In this regard, the constant reusing of the same characters makes The Prophecy feel a little like the later Lethal Weapon films. Sometimes, Kuzneski sticks a little too close to what he knows will work and appears afraid to take risks and try something new. As such, the plot can sometimes be a little contrived as he has to come up with unlikely ways of shoehorning the series' staple characters into the plot, just so he can get the gang back together one more time.
Where Kuzneski has always excelled is in the pace of his plotting and writing. As ever, he adopts a brisk, no-nonsense approach, not bothering to clutter up the text with any unnecessary detail or depth. Rather than aiming for anything approaching realism he simply provides the reader with whatever information is necessary for the plot and then gets on with it. The result is an admittedly shallow read, but one which is also relentless and proceeds at a breathtaking pace that instantly grabs the reader's attention and never lets go. The fast pace makes the book fun to read so that despite the rather weak plot, you won't be able to put it down.
In previous reviews, I've bemoaned certain aspects of Kuzneski's style - most notably his tendency to start new chapters like an entry from a guidebook giving you facts and figures about the places he has Payne and DJ visit or his tendency to try and end each chapter with a "trailer" for the next (something along the lines of "little did they know that they would soon be in big trouble"). Both still rear their ugly heads, but although there is evidence he is becoming aware of this shortcoming as his use of them is more limited.
There are bigger problems with the plot and at times Kuzneski seems a little unsure about where to take it. It's all rather vague and unengaging. Although there is still much fun to be had from Payne and Jones' "treasure hunt" as they travel around the world unravelling the clues, there's not much by the way of intrigue from the plot itself.
You always have the sneaking suspicion that there's not actually much of a mystery here (and you'd be right). It's as though Nostradamus is a personal interest of Kuzneski's and something he really, really wanted to write a book about without actually having any clear idea of what he wanted to achieve. The end result is a rather bland, dissatisfying plot that bumbles along, never really goes anywhere special and ends with a pathetic whimper with a conclusion that is nothing more than a complete cop-out.
Moreover, so much has been written about the (in)famous French prophet over the years that Kuzneski is a little hemmed in with where he can actually go plot-wise. Most readers will probably know at least something about Nostradamus, so Kuzneski can't take any liberties or spring any real surprises. As such, the plot is rather disappointing and The Prophecy stands and falls over how much you enjoy the banter between Payne and Jones. If their antics are starting to become a little tiresome, you might not enjoy this book as much as previous ones.
It's also becoming increasingly important that you have read at least some of the books in the series. Kuzneski makes repeated references to the duo's early adventures, which might leave newcomers floundering. His stripped-down style of writing means that he has no time for explanations and is increasingly assuming that his readers will know all the background information already. If you're new to Payne and Jones' adventures, I'd strongly recommend you start with one of the earlier titles.
For all its weaknesses, Prophecy is not a dead loss. The central mystery might be rather disappointing, but the antics of the two leading characters combined with its over-the-top sense of fun and Kuzneski's highly readable writing style means that you'll get enough enjoyment out of it.
You can pick Prophecy up pretty cheap now (I got mine second hand for 99p) and this is the way to go. Although it's fun, it's not the sort of book that you are ever likely to read again, so shelling out for a new, full priced copy is probably over the top for most.
* Translation: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
© Copyright SWSt 2011
The Prophecy by Chris Kuzneski is a thriller/mystery novel very much in the vein of Dan Brown.
I've been lately pretty engrossed in the novels by Michael Moorcock, reviews to come; his novels are pretty intense need a lot of thinking about and are generally slow reads so after finishing one of his novels I felt the need for something a bit simpler. So to paraphrase the great Ronnie Barker in Porridge when he's asked if he wants anything from the prison library "Yes, get me the Sun and something to read".
So after reading Hishyenesses excellent review on this book I spotted it in my library and took it out. I knew what I was doing and knew the genre it was placed in. I have in the past enjoyed reading Dan Brown without thinking he's a good writer, this novel seemed to hit all the right points so I entered with hope in my heart for a good read.
So what's it all about?
Well it starts in the fine manner established by Clive Cussler with a bit of ambiguous historical action. In this novel, we meet the seer Nostradamus who just before dying writes his final quatrain sends the document to a friend and then dies.
Jump forward to the present day and we meet the two heroes of the book, I haven't read anything by Kuzneski before so the two main characters were new to me. They are a pair of Pittsburgh businessmen/ex military types who have gained celebrity status by the events depicted in the previous novels. They are Jonathan Payne, a very tall white man who heads Payne Corporation, he is also ex-special forces and very very rich and David Jones, a black man from the same special forces as Jonathan. Together they make a formidable and engaging opponent and are constantly at war with each other in terms of banter and style points.
So what happens?
At a charity banquet, a mysterious girl turns up and looks out of place, Jonathan tracks her down and she reveals that she has an ancient letter in different languages. She reveals she's from Philadelphia and the one section in English appears to confirm that Philadelphia is a place of interest. They catch up with her in a church and when exciting she is killed by a sniper; they soon find out her home address and make it to her apartment finding the place overturned.
They do have the letter which they send to an expert in Switzerland and use a friend at Interpol to find out more about the shooter.
So the story spins away from the original girl and when they get to her apartment meet her neighbour, a gorgeous brunette who it turns out was the real target of the letter. She has also received a text message and together a coded message gives the team a chance to decode the meaning behind the obscure words in the original letter.
There are then further deaths, all head shots and all to characters we only meet for that chapter. None of the main characters die and the constant banter between Jonathan and David starts to annoy the reader. Now this kind of buddy chat is something the author has clearly taken from other authors such as Clive Cussler or even Ian Fleming but it is severely overused here. Fleming's Bond is of course the king of the one line quip, but they happen after he's dealt with the situation at hand not whilst in the middle of a gunfight. So we have wisecracking special force men who have a line for being fired at by a hidden sniper - oh come on be realistic.
The facts start to come out and of course we soon find out that there is a connection between Nostradamus and the woman, all the events have it appears been foresaw by Nostradamus so we are all safe because he's already seen the outcome. We encounter a rich decadent criminal genius; you know what it would be nice if every now and again that the adversary could be a dodgy man with bad breathe who is only interested in making money or killing people. No they have to wrap around some kind of love of antiques, fine wine and always a need for slightly dodgy sex (what's all that about?).
So Jonathan and Anne the woman share a fair amount of flirting and of course she turns out to be very intelligent and perceptive about everything, how convenient. We get to the ending and well it doesn't end in the conventional sense I'm assuming that there is going to be a direct sequel to this novel.
This kind of novel lives and dies on the concept it peddles, all the characters tend to blur into one, there will be a good looking rugged hero, a beautiful woman sometimes for the defence and sometimes for the prosecution and a decadent corrupt usually European adversary. Here we have it all in spades, two ex-secret service who are the best of the best, they are rich interested in everything and take everything in their stride. There is a hunt through the clues and plenty of travel around the globe so we are in very safe Dan Brown style world.
Is it any good?
Well it's ok, the writing style is better than most and the concept is decent, of course using Nostradamus in a novel isn't perhaps the most inspired but he only pops up every now and again. There is enough for the reader to enjoy and there isn't the annoying habit of writing very short chapters which end on a cliff hanger every time. So overall, a decent read and if Dan Brown is a football team beginning with S he would be a Stoke, Sam Browne would be a Stalybridge Celtic and Chris Kuzneski would be a Swindon Town. Now that's obscure maybe there's a hidden message?
Seriously it's ok, good for a beach or by the pool on your holidays but don't expect too much.
Having discovered a small fortune off the coast of Greece Jonathan Payne and David Jones haver returned to their normal life. As such Payne is throwing a fundraiser in Pittsburgh University. Amongst the crowd is a someone who doesn't really belong and when Payne and Jones confront her they soon find themselves involved in something neither of them could imagine. She has a copy of a letter, sender and language unknown and she needs their help to find out what it's all about.
This is the third book by Chris Kuzneski I've read and his 5th featuring the intrepid duo of Payne and Jones. After the last two I've become a bit of a fan and although I've not tracked down his other 2 yet I was quite looking forward to reading The Prophecy after buying it in Tesco for £3.93. Once again it see's Kuzneski link up the intrepid characters from his other novels Jonathan Payne and David Jones along with Nick Dial and Peter Ulster.
As this is the 5th book in the series following these characters he still seems to have the ability to keep the character descriptions fresh. Rather than just assuming everyone reading is already a fan and knows the lead characters already he gives you enough information on them to bring new readers on board but not alienate those who have read his other work. Of course he doesn't stop there and rewards existing fans of his work with a little more insight into each of the lead characters from the previous stories. At times of course he covers old ground but he does it in a slightly different way and manages to keep it from sounding to redundant or rehashed.
The new characters he has created for this story slot nicely into place and if there is one think Kuzneski seems to be good at it is creating characters with convincing backgrounds. There is of course someone else trying to get their hands on what Payne and Jones have and will stop at nothing, including trying to kill our heroes to get it. In creating this character he leaves a sufficient air of mystery about him and as Payne and Jones learn more about him so do we the reader. Like the previous books there is also a damsel in distress for the two leads to protect and again we find out about her through the dialogue between her and the two leads.
I would say though that unfortunately this is the first time that Kuzneski has failed to deliver with the plot. He seems to be trying to cram too much into it and unlike his previous books the pace of the plot felt a little unnatural. The idea of a story based on Nostradamus reaching out with a prophecy from beyond the grave could have worked but with this one Kuzneski has tried to make it a little too complicated with far too many plot holes and unanswered questions. It still makes for a good read don't get me wrong but taking into account the subject matter and the standard he set with his previous work it just doesn't quite work.
Overall I wasn't quite as impressed with this book as I have been with the others I've read by the same author. He is trying to be a little over ambitious with the plot and because of this it doesn't inspire the same page turning addiction as his previous books. I would even go so far as to say had this been the first book of his I'd read or had it been by another author I would have enjoyed it even less. That said there is still a reasonably story here and one that kept me reading so it can't have been all-bad. My final recommendation if you haven't heard of Chris Kuzneski before, then read Sign Of The Cross and The Lost Throne before this one, as they are far better.
I recently read - and thoroughly enjoyed - Chris Kuzneski's "The Lost Throne", and was sufficiently impressed to explore some of his back catalogue of books. As such, "Sword of God" and "The Plantation" are patiently waiting for their turn in my "to read" pile. However, when I found out his latest "The Prophecy" had only recently been published (Penguin Books - Summer 2009) I snapped it up when I saw it on offer at Tesco for three quid.
Usually, if I pick up a book whose main characters have been introduced in previous works, I like to go back to the beginning and work my way forward chronologically. However, when I got home, the "new book smell" proved too seductive, so I broke my "house rule" and got stuck-in straight away.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Most of Kuzneski's novels use a tried and tested formula - a dynamic, charismatic duo with complementary skills and talents (Jonathan Payne and David Jones), a trusted and cerebral academic sidekick with a taste for the finer things in life (Peter Ulster) and a super-connected computer nerd (Randy Raskin). Chuck in a "smarter than she looks" romantic interest and a useful ally in law enforcement (Nick Dial) and all of a sudden, you are looking at a Clive Cussler novel in all but name (for those familiar with the grandmaster's work, think Dirk Pitt/Al Giordano, Julian Perlmutter and Rudy Gunn and you get the picture).
Kuzneski makes no secret of Cussler's influence - he even gives the granddaddy of the genre a nod by making reference to him and some of his characters in one or two incidents in each of his novels. That sort of begs the question - is this a cheap imitation, the equivalent of a tribute band? Or is there something to Kuzneski that elevates him above mimicry and makes him a very good writer in his own right?
Jonathan Payne, an ex special forces operative who has inherited his grandfather's fortune, is hosting a fundraiser at the local university in his native Pittsburgh. His able sidekick, David Jones, who has been roped in to attending the event at the expense of watching his favourite basketball team, soon spots someone in the vast crowd that looks distinctly out of place amongst the glitterati attending the event.
Sensing that something is not quite right, Payne and Jones soon track the elusive woman down and confront her. She claims that having read of their recent adventures in Greece (a reference to "The Lost Throne") she is there to speak to them about a historical mystery, but wanted to meet away from the crowd. The duo are presented with a photocopy of a mysterious and cryptic letter that starts them on a fantastical and deadly journey - based on the prophecies of Nostradamus - which is part "Da Vinci Code" and part "National Treasure", but with a healthy dollop of Bond-like globe-trotting thrown in for good measure.
DARING OR DERIVATIVE?
After reading that, you'd be forgiven for thinking, "so what's new?". So far there doesn't seem to be a single iota of originality in Kuzneski's work. However, to dismiss the book on that basis would somewhat miss the point. In a way, all such work is derivative - there is not much left in popular literature that hasn't at least partly been tried before.
What raises this book above the mediocre is Kuzneski's punchy writing style, his ability to add depth to his characters, but above all, his talent for weaving a complex and intricate story that entertains and compels you to keep reading. That said, in my view at least, although this book is better than average, it hardly pushes the boundaries either. It's a worthwhile read, but something of a disappointment given how much I enjoyed the much tighter and better paced "The Lost Throne".
A useful analogy would be the work of John Grisham. I remember how much I enjoyed the ground-breaking and unique "The Firm" and the three or four of his novels that immediately succeeded it. However, after a while, the work became far too formulaic, predictable and a little stale - and I'm afraid that, in my view at least, Kuzneski's work is also drifting in a similar direction.
The genius of his previous novels was manifest in the believability and realism of the plot - although there were one or two eye-rolling moments, they were forgivable in context and as obviously needed devices to help drive the plot along. Unfortunately, these are both greater in number and far less credible in this latest effort. In some cases, a few of the twists and turns border on the incredulous, which for me at least, detracts from the enjoyment of reading.
I think you have to give readers at least some idea of where the story might be going and perhaps even the smug satisfaction of guessing right to keep them engaged. The paradox of "The Prophecy" is that it is at times totally predictable, and at others wildly unpredictable - which I found mildly disconcerting.
That said, there are a fair few things that Kuzneski does quite well in this adventure thriller. Despite this being the fifth novel to feature Payne and Jones, the author does a good job of re-hashing their back-story, giving new readers enough information to put the subsequent adventure in context, but no so much that those who have read previous stories would be bored by the repetition.
There is also much more character development - particularly of the two main protagonists - as Kuzneski spends more time than in previous novels on the dynamics of their relationship. Whilst this adds a pleasing depth - allowing you to empathise with Payne and Jones more - sometimes the dialogue can seem a bit forced and stilted and comes at the expense of slowing down the pace.
Encouragingly, the female characters in the novel are also well developed (I mean that in terms of character, rather than vital statistics, as the latter can usually be taken for granted in novels of this ilk...) and effortlessly rise beyond caricature. The obligatory baddie and his minions have more than a passing resemblance to 007's adversaries, as does the evident schadenfreude occasioned by his creative demise.
To be frank, I was expecting much better and was ultimately disappointed with this novel. The story and the ending were underwhelming and unsatisfying, and suffered somewhat in comparison to the author's previous efforts. To answer my own question, this book doesn't really strike the right balance between paying homage to its influences and providing enough originality to keep it fresh - it feels far more like a tribute act than a noteworthy work in its own right.
That's not to say it's a bad book - it certainly has it's moments and does keep you fairly well engaged, but it's not quite the page turner I was hoping it to be, and I certainly would not pay the £6.99 RRP for it. If you haven't read Kuzneski before, I would recommend you start at the beginning, with "The Plantation", as it's a much superior effort.
© Hishyeness 2010
t is seldom that I eagerly anticipate a book. Regularly, I look forward to seeing new films, listening to new albums and the like, but books don't seem to create quite as much excitement for me. The last book I was actually excited about was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, since it was the conclusion to a series I was deeply enthralled by. However, more recently, one book has been at the forefront of my mind, namely the very one you are reading a review of now, Chris Kuzneski's latest, "The Prophecy".
I knew it has been in the pipeline for release this year, and since I am on the mailing list, I knew that it was specifically out in October. So, I looked forward to trundling off to Waterstones to grab a copy. When I got to uni, I initially didn't have much time to read, what with lectures, drinking and being hungover, which occupied a great deal of my week. When the drinking died down a little bit, and my bank balance followed suit, I realised I was getting bored of watching TV in my room at night, and that I fancied getting my teeth in to a new book. It was then that I took the next opportunity to wander into the city and visit the bookstore.
Unfortunately, it wasn't out yet, but I could see his first ever book, which has just been released in the UK, namely "The Plantation", was. I am not always a fan of paying loads for books, and so decided that I would check how much it was online before buying. So, I went home empty handed. A week or two later, I remembered to check online, and so went to browse Amazon.
For some reason they had both books for the bargain price of around £3.50 each, and since I had a bit of a gift certificate left, I got both for under a fiver, with free postage. This was actually a few days before the UK release date, and the day I received them, I got an e-mail from the Chris Kuzneski mailing list saying it was due for release in a few days. I thinks Amazon jumped the gun a little.
So, I got the books and faced a though decision. Do I read The Prophecy, or The Plantation first? I had a battle of minds, until settling on The Prophecy.
The Prophecy is Kuzneski's latest, and longest book, it is the 5th in his series featuring recurring characters David Jones, and Jonathan Payne, best friends who met during their time in a top secret military order, known as the MANIAC's. Payne, a local millionaire after inheriting the family business from his grandfather, begins the novel of with hosting a local fundraising event, at the University of Pittsburgh, his attendees all local businessmen, and all dressed in their fancies tuxedo's. Of course, DJ has been dragged a long too, rather resentfully. During the middle of a speech, a young lady walks in, not at all dressed for the event, and arouses suspicions in Payne's mind, after he finishes his speech, DJ an Payne go to investigate, who is she? Why is she there?
The story then begins to unravel. As we discover what the young woman is there for, who she is, and most importantly, why she is seeking the attention of the two ex-MANIAC's, Payne and Jones end up travelling across the world, seeking help from past encounters, such as Nick Dial, head of Homicide at Interpol, and Petr Ulster, who owns an extensive collection of antiquities in Switzerland. They gradually uncover more about this mystery girl, and more importantly, about the package she is carrying...
I have now read all of Kuzneski's books, except from The Plantation. His first release here, Sign of the Cross, was incredible, a real page turning thriller, his second, Sword of God, not quite so good, but still featured a great plot, and his most recent before this, The Lost Throne, was phenomenal, and had me gripped. Unfortunately, he didn't really keep that up.
While his writing style has remained the same, which made it an enjoyable read, I found the book in general, to have no real plot. When I finished reading it, I thought "wait, what? Why did all that happen?" It just didn't make sense, and that was a real disappointment.
I think the historical content behind the book, which centres around Nostradamus, the 16th century visionary, was good, and he mixed in some interesting information and background to Nostradamus in an entertaining way, and that really contributed to the book.
The book's plot just seems too loose, and less believable, that his previous books, where there seemed to be a genuine motive behind the whole thing. In general, I didn't find it to be such a page turner, of course there were times when the plot was a bit gripping, but it often faded into mediocrity.
If you haven't read any Kuzneski, I wouldn't recommend this book. It is not at all his best work and would give the guy a bad image. I am currently reading his first book, "The Plantation", and it is so full of plot turns and gripping plot, that I find it hard to put down, so I know the guy has it in him to write amazing books, and I just hope that whatever he releases next can go back to his former, gripping plot.