Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Secret Crown by Chris Kuzneski

September 2010, Michael Joseph
544 pages, Paperback
Review Copy


Hidden treasure, clues, treasure map, secret passages, occasional strong language, some inneundo, helicopters, wet feet, a few moderately violent fights, death, friendship

Summary from Penguin

Bavaria, 1886
King Ludwig II, infamous for his eccentric behavior, is declared insane by his government and removed from his throne. A day later, Ludwig's corpse washes up in the shallows of Lake Starnberg. Rumours about the cause of the tragedy abound, but few people know why Ludwig was really killed. Or what secret was silenced by his death.
Germany, present day . . .
Hidden among the crates in a newly discovered Nazi bunker are documents stamped with a black swan, the insignia of the murdered king. As a favour to a friend, Jonathon Payne and David Jones fly to Bavaria to protect the documents, but soon face a life-or-death battle against an unknown enemy. From the depths of the Black Forest to the water canals underneath Ludwig's castles, the duo must solve the mystery behind the king's death or share his tragic fate.

This isn't a constant edge-of-the-seat thriller, but it's extremely enjoyable because of the friendly banter between Payne and Jones. As military men, they know how to use their initiative (sausages play a key role in one part of the book), and their experience means they react immediately when a situation arises. Many situations arise, which threaten the people in their care, as well as their own lives. One of them gets a small taste for pyromania, both get their feet wet and surprise a few tourists. There is one female in the book, Heidi, who is strong willed and curious enough that she attaches herself to Payne and Jones' team even when they object. Her field of expertise helps the team reach their goal quicker, as does he more stereotypical historian, Ulster, who has a personal stake in the mystery.

This book had much less drama than The Sword of God, and yet I enjoyed it because of Payne and Jones. In some instances I felt the plot fell a little flat and predictable, but the surprises that did arrive were enjoyable. I feel that maybe some of the background information could have been worked into the story a little better - there were a few major info dumping spots. I was more interested in the king's mystery than the enemy side of the story, and in some ways I'm glad. This was the reason why the blurb was a little misleading. Yes Payne, Jones and the characters they pick up along the way are in danger, and there are some nail-biting moments as the enemy closes in on them. However, the enemy didn't feel that big a threat to me. The enemy force didn't feel impossible to beat, there wasn't an overwhelming number of them nor was their anything particularly ruthless about them. They still provided trouble from Payne and Jones, and their demise was a most welcome one.

Nonetheless, this is a book I recommend to people and definitely one I'll re-read again. Chris has once again produced an engaging read, full of humour with a great emphasis on friendship between characters.

I give this book an 8/10 

Be sure to check out other books by Chris, including The Sword of God. More info can be found on his website.

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