Title: The Secret Crown
Paperback: 465 pages
Publication Date: 30/09/2010
Following in the tradition of Indiana Jones and Clive Cussler, Chris Kuzneski’s latest novel is an effortlessly enjoyable action-adventure thriller that blends treasure hunting, humour, violence, gun-battles and historical conspiracy, to great effect. Once again ex-US special forces duo Jonathon Payne and David Jones [it took me an embarrassingly long time to realise who he shares a surname with!] are on the hunt for hidden treasure – this time it’s the long-lost hoard of the mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
When a secret, disused Nazi bunker is found in the Bavarian Alps, filled with stolen artwork and gold [and you thought the Alps were only alive with the sound of music!], Jones and Payne are only to happy to assist their shady friend Kairser with moving the trove. But amongst these riches they discover a crate filled with documents bearing a black swan insignia – a secret seal attributed to the swan-obsessed Ludwig. In 1886 Ludwig died mysteriously, just days after being declared insane and dethroned by his own government. Known as der Märchenkönig [the fairy tale king] and (in)famous for his ‘eccentricity’, Ludwig almost bankrupted Bavaria through his obsessive wish to build fairy tale castles [think the Disney castle and your there – indeed, Neuschwanstein Castle actually inspired Walt Disney]. But did his death cover-up a dark secret? Or a hidden treasure? Unfortunately for our intrepid heroes they’re going to have to do some work to solve this puzzle, and they’re soon fighting off heavily armed thugs sent by a charming fellow whose idea of a pep-talk is putting an unfortunate victim’s manhood in a sausage dicer [I’ll never look at bratwurst in the same way again!].
Despite the sadistic brutality mentioned above, humour is actually a major feature of The Secret Crown [the book’s romantic interest is a blonde, Germanic girl who lives in the Alps. Her name? Heidi!]. And Jones and Payne’s relationship seems to consist of a stream of jock-like banter, which, allied to their happy-go-lucky attitudes, often leaves those around them more than a little perplexed. They even – slightly incongruously it must be said – find time to continue their barbs at one another during a heated fire-fight. And whilst they won’t win any awards for depth of characterisation, they are nevertheless highly enjoyable in a bromancey type of way.
Keeping the puzzle and historical elements to a minimum, Kuznetski excels at producing adrenalized gun-battles and fight scenes, delivered with a panache and excitement that would make Andy McNab and Chris Ryan proud. There are chases through underground grottos [how hilarious is that word?], secret passages, castles, visits to Oktoberfest, border-hopping helicopter rides, bratwurst [!] and people getting shot – what’s not to enjoy? For me, The Secret Crown is exactly what a commercial thriller should be – fast, furious, not too serious, and just a lot of good fun.