The Death Relic, by Chris Kuzneski. Putnam. 464 pages. $26.95.
Mr. Kuzneski once again puts together his special blend of humor and suspense in this new archeological thriller featuring the investigatory team of Jonathan Payne and David Jones. These men, former Special Forces operatives who maintain key connections in the world of secret government agencies, are summoned by gorgeous, rising star archeologist Maria Pelati, with whom Jones had enjoyed an aborted romance. The Italian woman had been persuaded to come to the assistance of American archeologist Terrence Hamilton, who claims that he needs her special expertise in Christian history to further his research into a unique treasure of Mayan relics.
Soon after she meets him in Cancun, Hamilton disappears. Not only is she perplexed, but she also feels threatened by some strange goings-on about which she has no clue. The dynamic duo of Payne and Jones arrive on the scene, all three having trust issues that need resolution before they can work together effectively.
Maria seems to have fallen into a tangled knot of crime and greed centered on a revenge plot against a kingpin in the world of high-profit kidnapping. Someone has turned the tables on Hector Garcia, taking his children as hostages and demanding an antique medallion as ransom. After his children, Garcia’s hoard of artifacts is his passion, and this medallion is the most treasured.
Having set a few plot engines in motion, Chris Kuzneski brings red-headed Tiffany Duffy onto the stage. She is in Mexico City on some kind of assignment, and her tourist education in Mexican history becomes the readers as well. Slowly but surely, the clouds obscuring Duffy’s relevance to the Death Relic quest, Maria’s obscure mission, and the threat against Hector Garcia’s children begin to disperse. What is revealed is astonishing and frightening.
A novel like “The Death Relic” requires mountains of exposition. Explorations of Mayan and Aztec history, the Spanish suppression of these Central American civilizations, and the role of the Roman Catholic Church in the settling and unsettling of the New World are all linked to the present-day situation. Dialogue handles much of this task with a seeming naturalness – not small feat for the burden placed upon it. Beyond the tool of dialogue, Mr. Kuzneski uses his third-person narrator to bring readers other portions of the staggering fact-load. Here, the story-telling sometimes loses shape and pace.
Fortunately, there is always enough action just around the corner to rev up the momentum, and this author is a master of action scenes. . . .
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the January 10, 2013 Naples and Bonita Springs editions of Florida Weekly, and also the January 16 Fort Myers edition and the January 24 Palm Beach Gardens / Jupiter edition, click here Florida Weekly – Kuzneski 1 and here Florida Weekly – Kuzneski 2