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Even Nostradamus Didn't See This One Coming...
The Prophecy - Chris Kuzneski
Member Name: Hishyeness
The Prophecy - Chris Kuzneski
Advantages: Above average, decent story, good characterisation.
Disadvantages: The author has done much better. Too many plot holes.
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
Summary: I expected more from a usually excellent author.