▸ mystery thriller

Read: The Secret Crown

Darn. I just noticed that I skipped a book in a series. I hate when that happens. I prefer to read a series in the right order. Even though, here, it does not really matter.

There are still the same main characters; there is not much development: neither the characters nor the general plot are much different from the novels before The Secret Crown in Kuzneski’s Payne & Jones series. While Kuzneski finally got rid of the foreshadowing device his characters are still engaged in their stereotypical banter. Kuzneski should put a little more effort in the dialogues.

Yet, the novel is entertaining and, indeed, at about the same level of the earlier Cussler novels with respect to literary quality (it’s low-brow entertainment to relax and unwind and that’s why I read them) and bloodshed. The background story is moderately well research. The only annoying mistake that slipped through fact-checking concerns a modern day detail. Berlin Tegel is not the largest German airport, Frankfurt is.

Read: The Sign

Given Raymond Khoury’s earlier books The Last Templar and The Sanctuary, The Sign is surprisingly secular. It still features a religious theme: A mysterious sign heralding impending doom. Yet, there is nothing really mysterious or rather mystical about it. It is part of an elaborate scheme to alert mankind to the dangers of global warming. At least, that were the original intentions of some of the involved people. So, the plot is ok, and the author’s agenda pretty clear. The do-gooder theme gets a bit laid on thick after the first half of the novel, though. This is one of the two things that may interfere with a pleasant reading experience. The second disruptive factor is the not-really-credible protagonist: An ex-con turned hero. He gets shot, endures the pain, manages to perform some super secret agent stunts, and – of course – conforming to all cliches, gets the girl in the end.

Still, the book was enjoyable. The first part much more so than the last.

Read: The Tenth Chamber

Cooper’s The Tenth Chamber is mixture of historical and crime fiction, its three timelines are set some 30000 year ago, during the medieval ages, and in our current time. The quite compelling story joins a longevity theme with some conspiracy theory.

All in all, the elements of the story are not overly original. There are monks, an old encrypted text, life-span enhancing organic potions with an unavoidable side effect, and a government cover-up. Indeed, I had a feeling of deja-vu when I read the novel. Yet, Cooper’s style is enjoyably suspenseful. There is no padding. The length and the pace of the story are just about right. In short a rather good book, not exceptional but not bad either.

Read: The wheel of darkness

I did not like the plot of Wheel of Darkness. Too much mysticism, too much religion. Everything hinges on one meta-physical entity that is not explained by scientific principles at all. A feature that, otherwise, I did like about the other earlier Preston/child novels. Sure, it was often quite a stretch, here they do not even try. The story’s resolution remains completely in the realm of mysticism.

As usual for the author duo Preston and Child this novel is well written, well paced, and unfortunately full of hypocritical moral.

Read: The Lost Throne

Reading Kuzneski’s novels in close temporal sequence definitely helps. The characters seem more better developed and more diverse than they actually are. Otherwise all the heroes seem to be modeled after the same stereotype. They may differ in skin or hair color but that’s it. Another weak spot of the Lost Throne is the lack of a reasonable motivation for the protagonists' actions and the plethora of coincidences that link individual scenes and subplots.

On the upside, Kuzneski finally got almost rid if his nasty habit of hinting at things to come. It’s still there, he uses this ‘technique’ considerably less often, though. If it were not for the rescue mission subplot this would be Kuzneski’s best novel so far. The Interpol’s guy subplot was rather interesting and could be easily expanded to a good novel of its own. In sum, a mixed experience.

Read: Sword of God

Kuzneski has certainly found his personal recipe for a well selling novel. A set of international locations – with background information soundly researched –, a certain level of violence and gore, (too) detailed insights into the protagonists thoughts, a stable set of repeating characters, and one cliche and semi-witty one-liner after another.

It’s good for some relaxed entertainment, at about the same level as Cussler. Though there are still some annoying writing quirks. The narrator is sometimes ahead of the story and hints at things to come, surprises that lurk in the next chapter and therefore spoils exactly these twists and turns.

Read: The Ice Limit

Ice Limit is one of the few non-Pendergast novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. They seem to have specialized in mystery novel that allude often to the supernatural. Ice Limit is, however, more closely linked to science fiction. First, its all about a meteorite; more specifically a possibly interstellar meteorite. Something that is extremely unlikely. In the end, the object of interest is even considered a proof of Panspermia, establishing a strong link to science fiction. Also the feats of ingenious engineering, a lot of the story is about moving an extremely heavy object (the meteorite), is more typical of a science fiction novel than a thriller.

Nevertheless, there is murder, mayhem, corruption, secrecy, a kind of villain – though he is actually an honest citizen with a lot of conviction and loyalty to his country and family – and a kind of good guy. The novel breaks with some stereotypes rendering it slightly more interesting.

On the other hand, the novel does not really deliver what is advertised on its back. The mysterious meteorite is much less mysterious. The flawless expedition is far from flawless. And the frightening truth is not about the meteorite, as implicated, but about human tragedy. Yet, thanks to the well honed skills of Preston & Child the novel is still entertaining; good material for the nightstand.

Read: The Lost Labyrinth

Here is one that is not part of a series. Not given how the book ends. Wrong.

As a rule I collect some information about the author before I buy a book. Usually to make sure that I buy and read the first book of a series first – if the book I want to to read happens to belong to a series. OK, this time I obviously did not do my homework. Will Adams’ The Lost Labyrinth is the third and most recent novel in a series of three books that share the same protagonist. I have to admit I did not notice nor did I suspect that The Lost Labyrinth is part of a series. This speaks in favor of the book and Adams.

The Lost Labyrinth is one of those – here nice and well written – mystery thrillers where the protagonists belong to a certain academic circle; here it is archaeologists. The story is embedded in some well known historical myths and facts. Adams may be a little too ambitious in trying to link several historical myths and facts at the same time: Atlantis, the Golden Fleece, and Minos’ Labyrinth. On the upside, realism in fictional works like this one is often sacrificed in order to increase the suspense and make the protagonist more hero-like, not here. All the fights and villainous acts feel rather real and befitting.

Even though I rather enjoyed the book I am not quite sure yet whether I will read the first two installments of Adams’ heroic archaeologist…

Read: Sign of the Cross

Hinting once or twice at things still to come to increase the suspense of one’s narrative can be a good move. The reader becomes engrossed in the story and feels slightly ahead of the protagonists. Continuously hinting at things still to come becomes very fast an annoying quirk. Chris Kuzneski has this quirk and Sign of the Cross suffers to some extend under it.

Otherwise it’s a good religious themed thriller. The heroes are quite likable and not too serious. Indeed, I felt a bit reminded of Clive Cussler’s work. The protagonists still need some depth – though it is only the second novel in a series that I suspect to get rather voluminous…

Read: The Sanctuary

Dual (or multiple) interwoven time lines seem pretty popular in current successful novels. The Sanctuary, for instance, connects one story plot playing in the early 1700 with one in the early 2000. Raymond Khoury mixes quite a bit of action – shoot outs, kidnappings, hot pursuits – a string of coincidences with an appealing scientific motive. Though the general level of violence and the number of shady characters is rather high the novel also brings up an interesting mix of moral attitudes and scientific ethics.

How far should you go, how far can you go to achieve your goal? Here, questionable scientific experiments, torture, and murder are obviously accepted means to reach the end. On top of that, even the goal is “ethically challenged.” Should one strive to find the cure for death, to prolong one’s life beyond the normal expectations? And, should you share that knowledge?

For this novel does not tell the “usual” quest for a religious artifact or a secret that could shatter the foundations of the Church, it does tell the quest for a vaccine to cure the disease of aging. And prolongevity – doubling, tripling the healthy human life expectancy – raises some serious social and moral questions.

These questions are far more interesting than the novel itself that only cursorily is concerned with them.

Still, The Sanctuary is quite entertaining – even though Khoury’s first novel The Last Templar was a bit more enjoyable and enthralling.