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Updated: June 1, 2013 19:37 IST

Good ol’ treasure hunt

SHEILA KUMAR
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The Hunters; Chris Kuzneski; Hachette; Rs 350
The Hindu The Hunters; Chris Kuzneski; Hachette; Rs 350

A crack team, a legendary treasure and a train named Ludmilla…. This has all the ingredients for a rollicking potboiler.

Chris Kuzneski seems done with the Payne and Jones series of thrillers for the time being. In his new thriller, The Hunters, he employs the familiar direct, forceful style of storytelling that has come to work so well for him and is much appreciated by his readers.

So we have this unlikely mix: the taciturn Cobb, leader of the pack; McNutt, all brawn and little brain, though the brawn is put to most impressive use whenever necessary; Sarah, the lithe beauty who is Catwoman du jour; Jasmine, the adept but tending to prosy translator; Garcia, the computer geek essential to pull off heists in our wired world. At one point, the author himself terms them the

Breakfast Club (geek, jock, prom queen, you get the idea) and one has to agree.These handpicked renegades move at a quick clip across the world, traversing Romanian cities, on to NYC, Moscow, Florida, parts of Transylvania, then back to Romania, sent on a pre-determined route by a mystery patron who, of course, works via a frontsman. The task at hand is to search for the deliberately misplaced freight trainloads of Romanian gold, artefacts and jewellery, from the

Romanov royalty as well as the country’s vaults. Even as Germany was advancing steadily in the early stages of WWI, Romania signed a stranger-than-strange deal with Russia, the terms of which were that the latter country would safeguard Romania’s treasures. So, 1916 saw a couple of trainloads of this treasure trove head to Russia. Fast forward to almost a century later, these goods are worth $ 3.5 billion. And no one knows where it is. Of course.

Just when you begin to enjoy the story as a straightforward treasure hunt, Kuzneski throws in elements into this already volatile mix: a train named Ludmilla and Dobrev, a train driver who loves her to bits; the deadly members of the Black Robes, acolytes of none other than Rasputin himself, and a cult with a propensity for all kinds of violence; Romanian villagers who live in idyllic surrounds seemingly caught in a time warp. The bad `uns fight bad, using the Sambo (full name: Samooborona Bez Oruzhiya) method where all and every kind of debilitating martial art move is actively encouraged; the good `uns counters with a jaw- dropping range of arms and ammo, and gyrocopters, besides. Then there is the ultimate treasure which the team had not been told about and did not in the least expect to find.

The Hunters is basically such old- fashioned fun. The reader is pulled into the vortex of this fast-moving tale and is most happy to be pulled in, too. No real surprises here but there are touches of sly humour (one betrayer was tracked and killed, and so were all his Facebook friends!) and occasional patches of hyperbole (the group rode up a breathtaking hill, then went through an awe-inspiring forest). Oftentimes the story sags, especially in the middle parts, but picks up pace at the conclusion. The one problem is that the reader doesn’t really warm to any of the team, all of whom with the exception of Cobb, tend to talk way too much. Fully fleshed-out characters yes, but not the kind you want to hang out with. That apart, The Hunters holds all the ingredients vital to the makings of this genre of potboiler.

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