Sunday, 27 March 2011

Chris Kuzneski

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Stuff and Nonsense by Amy Cockram is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.

These kind of books are my shameful secret (amidst an ocean of the embarrassing tosh that I sometimes read). Chris Kuzneski's novels belong in an adventure genre that is part Indiana Jones, part Dan Brown. In this genre the plot normally revolves around chasing clues to find a pseudo-historical or pseudo-religious MacGuffin; the narrative takes its starting point from a historical or religious personage or story, and a fictional plot then develops around this central idea. This genre is great fun, but shouldn't be confused with historical account as some strangely deluded people seemed to do with Dan Brown's novels.

Chris has written a series of novels with the characters of Jonathan Payne and David Jones, ex military men from a fictional special forces team. Payne inherited a thriving business and a fortune from his grandfather, and was obliged by these family commitments to leave the military. His wealth allows him to set up his friend, Jones, as a private detective (in a nice line, Jones is described as a natural detective who, instead of worrying if a glass is half-full or half-empty, will try to "figure out who drank the damn water"). In the series of books they continue to find fantastical adventures, and Payne's wealth helps to facilitate jaunts to exotic places in search of treasure.

There are a couple of things that stand Chris Kuzneski apart from other writers in this kind of area that I have read (Dan Brown, Matthew Reilly, James Rollins), and the primary one is the sparky friendship that he has created between these two characters. He has written for them a strong and loyal friendship, but one that is created through their entertaining banter and repartee. This friendship rings true with some friendships I have had that have been based on a good-natured winding up of the other person.

Another thing that sets him apart is the story of his break into being a published writer. This is a story that should hopefully inspire writers and give them hope. His first novel - "The Plantation" - was ignored by agents and rejected by publishers. So he printed a number of copies from a print on demand company and sold them from the back of his car, as well as sending them on to authors he admired and asking them if they would read it (a number did, apparently - Lee Child, James Patterson, James Rollins - and were willing to endorse it). He was lucky enough that an agent bought a copy and wanted to take him on, who then sold his second book. "The Plantation" has now been officially published on the back of his success, although it might not be as easy to find as his subsequent novels (I think my copy might be an import).

Incidentally, Chris Kuzneski has his own Facebook page and, rather sweetly, each person who posts seems to get a personal response from him. He was impressed that I can brush my teeth and read at the same time (not the main thrust of my post, but the one he seemed to pick up on - if he thinks that is impressive, he should see me hold a book open with my toes so that I can read while drying my hair and eating breakfast as I get ready for work). I have also just realised that I referred to him earlier in this post as Chris - first name terms - when normally I find it hard to break the academic habit of using the author's surname. That might be a reflection on the fact that his Facebook page makes him seem more personally accessible and connected to his fan base, which is quite endearing (although his characters are quite tough, so he might not appreciate such girly adjectives as sweet or endearing).

If anyone is interested to read them, these are his novels, in order:
"The Plantation"
"Sign of the Cross"
"Sword of God"
"The Lost Throne"
"The Prophecy"
"The Secret Crown"

"The Plantation" is a bit different from the other books - it's darker, and I think due to its publication history does not tie in as part of a series as closely as the other books do (for example, Jonathan Payne has a girlfriend who he is willing to risk his life for, but who is then never acknowledged again in the following books). But in the main, it probably helps to read them in order as they do mention events in previous books. It might help, in modern terminology, to think of "Sign of the Cross" as a reboot.

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