Book review: The Secret Crown by Chris Kuzneski

Brain and brawn, short and tall, black and white...action duo David Jones and Jonathon Payne don’t appear to have much in common.

Thursday, 2nd December 2010, 6:00 am

Don’t be fooled! These fearless ex-US Special Forces operatives share one compelling and controlling character trait – they’re both serious adrenalin junkies.

They are also an addictive double act, travelling the globe like two freewheeling James Bonds and wisecracking their way through death-defying danger and bands of evil desperadoes.

Chris Kuzneski’s effortlessly enjoyable Payne and Jones adventure novels blend all that’s best of 007, Indiana Jones and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

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There’s historical mystery based on real events, the now regulation treasure hunt, chases, suspense, gun battles, some particularly nasty sadism and lashings of sparkling dialogue, but there’s also powerful storytelling and a real thrill in the chase.

Payne and Jones, once part of an elite unit of top soldiers with the rather apt acronym the MANIACs, specialise in humorous banter and entertaining innuendo and their latest mission is going to test their ability to keep smiling.

Back in 1886, the eccentric behaviour of King Ludwig II of Bavaria (and yes, he really did exist) has almost bankrupted the royal family and forced the government to declare him insane and remove him from his throne.

An assassin, who is stalking the king, has two tasks to complete which will rescue the kingdom from financial ruin and ensure its future for decades to come.

When Ludwig’s corpse washes up on the shore of Lake Starnberg, rumours abound about how he died but few know why he was really killed or what secret was covered up by his death.

Fast forward to the Bavarian Alps in modern day Germany and a secret underground cavern containing items forgotten by time is discovered in the most bizarre of circumstances.

Enter our heroes on a private flight from Pittsburgh to help friend and American black market expert ‘Kaiser’ discover the real meaning behind the stack of crates in what they believe is an old Nazi bunker.

Some of the boxes contain priceless paintings and there are worrying signs that the family of their good friend Petr Ulster, grandson of a famous Austrian philanthropist and art collector, was involved in the theft of the treasures.

Other crates are stamped with a distinctive black swan and when Ulster arrives on the scene and reveals that it is the insignia of the murdered mad King Ludwig, Payne and Jones are soon engaged in a life-or- death battle with an unknown and ruthless enemy.

There is plenty here to keep Kuzneski’s fans hooked...gothic castles, underground passages, breathtaking locations, high-octane action and even a romance interest in the shape of a young woman with the very Alpine name of Heidi.

Thrills and spills all the way.

(Penguin, paperback, £6.99)