Jack Cobb and his team of hunters return. Back on the fabulously generous payroll of Jean-Marc Papineau (who in turn seems to be on the payroll of someone else), Cobb and the others are set a task that has defied the best efforts of treasure hunters for more than a thousand years – the discovery and recovery of the lost tomb of Alexandra the Great. The mortal remains of a man once believed to be a god are rumoured to have been moved from Alexandria to a place of safety during a time of great upheaval in late Roman antiquity. But, with exploration now banned in the tunnels and cisterns below the ancient city, it is next to impossible to uncover the clues that may hint to the location of the tomb. Never people to let law and order get in the way of solving a good puzzle, the hunters unseal the entrance to Alexandria’s underworld. Unfortunately, they are not alone in the darkness. While there may be many desperate to discover Alexander’s tomb, there are others who would stop at nothing to keep it hidden.
The Forbidden Tomb is the second in Chris Kuzneski’s new adventure series The Hunters, which complements his well-established Payne and Jones thrillers. The first of the new series, appropriately named The Hunters (review), took our recently formed band of heroes eastwards to Russia and Romania. In this second novel, the team, now so much more familiar and close to one another, is unable to resist the pull (and pay cheque) of working together again on a mystery that seems almost impossible to solve. However, it’s not long before events take a more deadly path and from that moment onwards everything gets much more serious, to the extent that even Alexander the Great must take second place.
This is a fun team. They banter and fight (not just verbally) but each has their own skills that make them vital to the cause. Cobb and Josh McNutt are ex-military and what they don’t know about strategy and guns isn’t worth knowing; Sarah is a cat burglar; Jasmine is an archaeological and linguistic expert; Hector Garcia is the computer genius; Papineau has the purse strings. They are all very likeable, although it has to be said, that McNutt is not named McNutt by accident. There’s many a page when I would like other members of the team to lock him in the cellar. His character does stray into the caricature and I think the novels would benefit from a slightly toned down McNutt. Other characters, especially Jasmine and Sarah, are much more three-dimensional and one feels that there is a lot more to discover about Cobb.
The Forbidden Tomb is a mystery adventure and so thrills arguably take precedent over character development. Nevertheless, each is distinct in their own way and as events unfold there are shocks here that made me sit up with a jolt. The banter of the first half turns into something very different (I actually cried) and this is very unusual in such a book. I was in two minds about it, to be honest, and I still haven’t made up my mind about how well these two parts of the book marry together. For much of the novel, everything proceeds as you’d expect and then when it doesn’t it’s a shock for both characters and reader. But, no doubt, shocks to complacency in a reader are all to the well and good and it certainly makes The Forbidden Tomb stand out.
Mystery novels about Alexander the Great’s tomb are about as common as thrillers discovering the location of Atlantis. But The Forbidden Tomb doesn’t follow the obvious path. There is adventure, thrills, conspiracy, violence, humour but alongside these are shocks and upsets that extend far beyond the pages of this one novel. One thing is for certain, the next Hunters novel is going to be fascinating and I look forward to it very much.