The Hunters: Financed by a billionaire philanthropist, this elite team - an ex-soldier, an historian, a computer whiz, a weapons expert, and a thief - is tasked with finding the world's most legendary treasures.
The mission: Fearing a German victory in WWI, the Romanian government signed a deal with Russia to guarantee the safety of the country's treasures. In 1916, two trains full of gold and the most precious possessions of the Romanian state - paintings, jewellery, and ancient artefacts - were sent to the underground vaults of the Kremlin. But in the turmoil of war, the treasure was scattered - and lost. Almost a century later, the haul is valued at over 3.5 billion dollars. Despite hundreds of attempts to find it, its location has remained a mystery... Until now.
Can the Hunters find the treasure and succeed where all others have failed?
I would imagine that there will be some readers who will not get past the first few lines of the above blurb without screaming "cliché!". However, I personally read those few lines and screamed "I want to read that book!". I've mentioned many times in the past, both on this blog, and before it on my book blog for younger readers, that I love action thrillers that have some kind of quest element to them, whether it be hunting down a lost religious artefact with supposedly mystical powers, or like in this case: the lost treasure of the Romanian government. As such, I have been reading and enjoying Chris Kuzneski's books for a number of years, and I had been looking forward to reading this one ever since I first heard about it.
If you've continued to read on past those opening lines of blurb then I commend you for your obviously excellent taste. Yes, the character line-up that make up the eponymous Hunters may sound a little familiar, but think about it for a minute. If you were a billionaire philanthropist who wanted to build a team that you could send out to hunt down and retrieve long lost treasures in this modern age of ours, then would your team be any different? You would need:
Someone to lead a group made up of very different personalities, from very different backgrounds (i.e. an ex soldier)
Someone who is an expert at carrying out research into ancient relics, wartime situations, political geography (i.e. an historian)
Someone who can assist the historian in his or her research and provide technical back-up using a veritable cornucopia of electronic gadgetry (i.e. a computer whiz)
Someone who can protect your team whilst they are in the field (i.e. your weapons expert)
And finally, someone with the breaking and entering skills that may be required to retrieve the hunted for object as and when you find it (i.e. a thief).
Yes, we've pretty much just described in one way or another most of the members of the Leverage team, and maybe one or two of The A-Team and Charlie's Angels, but if you're after a treasure worth millions then you are hardly going to employ a butcher, a baker and a candlestick maker, are you? And for me, this team of very different, and occasionally conflicting personalities are a big part of what made this book so enjoyable for me.
Naturally, any author delivering a new 'first in series' book needs to introduce his characters in some way, and I loved the way Kuzneski introduced his team and their various skills. He basically has his billionaire hire them to do a rather dangerous job (stealing from a ruthless and bloodthirsty Russian mafia boss), working together as a team with barely any kind of introduction to each other. If they pull the job off, they pass the test, and they are hired for greater things, not that they know this at the time. It goes without saying that said test is passed with flying colours (no, that isn't a spoiler - if they had failed, then the books would have ended at the second chapter), and once they have agreed to sign up for the quest they find themselves heading for Russia, and the first leg of their mission to locate the lost treasure of the Romanian government, supposedly passed to the Russian for safe keeping all the way back in 1916.
Naturally, in these kind of stories (and I have read more than a few), there is usually a bad guy who also wants to get his or her hands on the treasure, and in this case our team of Hunters find themselves coming up against the mysterious Black Robes, a group that will stop at nothing to reach their goal. Throw in the Russian police for good measure, and our team of heroes may struggle to make it through their first quest alive, especially as the motives of their employer are not entirely clear, and there may be a few crosses and double-crosses ready to jump out and bite them at the worst possible moment.
I mentioned above that I have been a reader of Chris Kuzneski's books for some time, but not all of them have been perfect. His Payne and Jones books have great characters, but in one or two the story has been lacking, and in the most recent one I found the dialogue between Payne and Jones to be rather irritating at times. The Hunters does not suffer from a poor plot, and the dialogue is largely excellent, with only a very small number of occasions where I found it a little unnatural. The characters are still very much a strength though, and not just the main team. In Russia, the team find themselves working with an aged railway worker, and every scene he features in is an absolute delight to read, in much the same way that Petr Ulster, a secondary character in the Payne and Jones books, became something of a fan favourite.
The ending of the book left me wanting a lot more. I want to know more about the billionaire Papineau, and his motivations, especially as Kuzneski keeps this very much shrouded in mystery. I want to know more about the backgrounds of the various team members, and how they ended up on Papineau's wish list for his team of Hunters. And I want to know just what the team are going to be hunting for next. The ending of the book will also have fans of the Payne and Jones books grinning from ear to ear, but thete is no way in the world I am going to explain why here. You'll just have to read the book for yourselves (although if you're a Payne and Jones fan I would imagine you don't need a whole of of persuading from me).
My thanks go to the wonderful people at Headline for sending me a copy of The Hunters to review.