Saturday, January 24, 2015

Crown of Serpents (Michael Karpovage)

Crown of Serpents
(The Tununda Mysteries series, Book 1)
Michael Karpovage
Karpovage Creative, Inc.
Fiction, Mystery/Thriller
** (Bad)

DESCRIPTION: After seeing too much action in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jake Tununda figured that a job as historical researcher would be a pleasant change of pace. It would also give him a chance to reconnect with his Native American heritage. But old habits die hard. When he heard about a lost and injured man in Cranberry Marsh, he headed in to help - and finds himself up to his neck in a story winding back hundreds of years, through the founding of the Confederacy of the Five Civilized Tribes and the American Revolution, and straight to an ancient relic with untold powers... and a modern-day madman ready to unleash those powers on the world.

REVIEW: An ex-Army hero, an Indiana Jones-style plot, an evil casino magnate and his thugs... I knew this was going to be a testosterone-heavy thriller when I downloaded it. I didn't know that there would be almost nothing else worth reading. The story barely gets started before a clunky infodump tangles up the plot, setting a pace that would continue throughout the novel. Karpovage delves in to Native American history and the atrocities committed by both natives and white men before, during, and after the American Revolution, requiring several plot-stopping explanations (some of which repeat themselves, almost verbatim) to convey. He also spares little effort extolling the Freemasons (of which, not surprisingly, he is a member). The rest of the story squeezes in around the edges, in bursts of action and gunfire and false leads. There is no room left over to establish likable, or even interesting characters, so the cast is made up of paper-thin stock stereotypes: the sexy yet initially hard-nosed lady cop, the evil would-be emperor Nero, the sadistic thugs, the wise old native woman. Even Jake himself has no more structural integrity than is required to aim a rifle and ogle the cop. His belief in the powers of the legendary Crown wax and wane unpredictably, often in the space of a single scene... as does his overall knowledge. One key plot point pivots on a Freemason secret code... one which, being a Mason himself, he should at least have some passing knowledge of, even if he isn't intimately familiar with its translation... which, fortunately, Google is. Meanwhile, the writing reads like a cut-rate translation, with several misused words and phrases. (The evil Nero proudly displays a bust of his "descendant," born a few hundred years ago. At another point, a character confesses that she "bit off more than I thought I could handle." The novel also repeatedly uses the obsolete spelling "broach" - now more often used as a verb - instead of "brooch," the decorative item intended. Just a sampling of the issues, major and minor, that kept distracting me from the story as I read.) Karpovage also evidently has a hatred of the simple word "said," as his characters incessantly giggle, hiss, interject, point out, and otherwise deliver dialog in improbable and annoying ways. Often, the narrative lingers over pointless stretches of people driving or otherwise dithering away time, then jumps over the bits where they actually do something interesting. The story itself swims along down a river of testosterone, with Jake glaring, spitting, punching, and shooting his way to answers, and Nero (and/or his thugs) cackling, cursing, hitting, and shooting in retaliation. Eventually, it ends. While there were glimmers of promise in the premise and in Karpovage's handling of Native American issues, both ancient and modern, in the end I just plain didn't like this story or the way it was told.

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