We are all familiar with the whip-wielding, snake-hating hero Indiana Jones, who first graced our screens in 1981 with The Raiders of the Lost Ark, a film that launched a franchise and gave us that thrill for adventure fiction! Along with character such as James Bond and John McClain, Indiana Jones sits in that category of plot-driven male protagonists who just won’t die and always have a witty one-liner up their sleeves to lob at the ladies and villains alike.
In Secret of the Nexus by C.P. Moore, we meet one such character: Greg Cross, by day a specialist security consultant but by night he is the master-thief known as Highwire. Without giving too much away, Cross is sent by a trusted associate to ‘retrieve’ an ancient tablet, however it seems he is not the only one after the tablet and during a fight with a fellow would-be-thief, he breaks the artefact and unknowingly absorbs its power. This leads him to a good vs. evil battle with a secret organization that might bring civilization to its knees. The adventure leads Cross to forgotten tombs, foreign lands and a fist-fight with a god trapped in human form.
Cross is undoubtedly a representative of the category that sees James Bond sipping martinis and Han Solo shooting bountyhunters. He is your typical thirty-something white male American with a rich public life but who decides to take matters into his own hands and lead a duel life in the name of justice, stealing only from the criminal and corrupt. I prefer character-driven over plot-driven narratives, however the characters – regardless of genre – must still be engaging, present some depth and change as the story progresses. Greg Cross is unfortunately not one of these characters. By the end of the book, I did not know anything different about Cross than when I first opened the book, other than what drives the plot: he is a thief, he is a security consultant and he is witty. Readers are not given any backstory, save for why he became a thief and even that is quite thin: he gets pissed off by crooks, he was also once accused of robbery and in clearing his name, Cross discovered he had a knack for getting into places he wasn’t supposed to. Now, while readers don’t necessarily need any more than that, when it is only backstory we get it creates a void. The difference between Cross and someone like Indiana Jones, who is the immediate comparison considering this novel deals with archaeology, is that Indiana Jones was never written for the page but the script. Having a witty, chevalier vigilante on the big screen is very different from a writer-to-reader novel, chiefly because our expectations are different as an audience and we are already barred from generating an intimacy with the protagonist, because we know it’s a Hollywood adventure flick and its typically only 120mins long. We bought the popcorn, we want to kick back and not have to think too hard. It is very difficult to pull off the same trick in fiction. I found Cross’ wit got grating after a while, he seemed to change his mind within paragraphs, his reactions were often not realistic and without Moore giving us a little more in terms of ‘why’ Cross reacts in certain ways, we are left with a poorly represented stereotype rather than a character. Overall I felt Cross didn’t take his own peril seriously, still persisting on quippy one-liners when a gun was put to his head. Moore balance of trying to create a story with humour but also an action-packed mythology-heavy story caused conflict within the character of Cross. Sadly there are little-to-no redeeming qualities in Moore’s other characters. Let us look at the other ‘main’ three: Leonard and Leyana (I would go into the villain but unfortunately this would lead to many spoilers). Leonard is your ‘mentor’ archetype, a reoccurring figure in literature as well as film. He is very knowledgeable, he guides the hero on his journey and quite often dies but he is resurrected in some fashion, a fate Leonard is spared. A saving grace would be that Leonard has the best backstory of the novel, his motives and history are clear, though his marriages less so. He was married twice, the second time to Leyana’s mother. Both women are dead, one killed by Enlil – our villain of the novel – but it often gets confusing what happened when and to whom. This confusion is down to one Leonard’s main purposes in this novel: the exposition dump or information dump being the more common phrasing. This is when overt exposition (backstory) is dumped in a block within the narrative. When Cross goes to Leonard and Leyana’s house we are given what amounts to nearly 100 pages of talking, revealing and a flashback, which to be fair was a very intriguing flashback and did break up the dump briefly. They sit in Leonard’s living room for a long period of time, then they briefly disperse only to be almost immediately in a café altogether again having yet another block of discussion. There are two unfortunate side effects to this method: firstly it stalls the plot, literally putting the brakes on the whole story; secondly, it shows a lack of confidence. Exposition needs to be drip-fed for the reader to gradually understand the plot, the build-up is important and it allows the reader time to digest. Laying down a block of exposition not only makes it difficult for the reader, but also brings into question the exposition itself. If the only way to explain what the plot is means stopping the plot entirely for a considerable length of time, then surely that brings into question the plot itself? Is it too over complicated? At first I was excited to see a strong and independently-minded woman in this novel. Leyana appears quite early and despite the fact we are immediately told about her too-tight red top, she seems sassy, quick-tongued and ready for a fight. However, she was to be a disappointment. This characters does nothing expect whine, make sarcastic remarks and sort-of flirt with Cross when the plot decides that it wants a touch of romance to break up the gunfire. I could not see her purpose in this book other than to annoy the other characters and get herself in trouble. This was a shame because the basic premise of her character is interesting: entrepreneurial woman who runs a company but who is seeking answers to the greatest archaeological mystery, desires revenge for her dead mother and knows how to wield a gun. Sadly the actual personality of Leyana leads her to being, for me, an extremely irritating character.
The plot itself is pretty predictable, though that is not necessarily to its detriment. It is expected of the genre, in your typical good vs. evil we expect the good guys to win, for everyone to make it home safely and to hint at more adventures to come. Now whether this novel does that or not I will leave up to you readers, however due to its predictability I did lose interest in it half-way through, as I already knew what was going to happen. Language was also another point against Secret of the Nexus. Other than a few errors, the language is written frequently in the passive voice. The passive voice is wordy, it wastes words that could continue the narrative along, it isn’t clear and it reverses the focus: things happen to characters rather than characters doing things. In an adventure/thriller novel, which is certainly how this book presents itself, passive writing is not a wise move. There are also many cases of ‘telling’ over ‘showing’, which has a similar effect. The writing itself is clunky and often wasteful, taking twenty words instead of five to say something.
This is my first negative review and though it is part of being a reviewer, it leaves me with a heavy heart none-the-less. I bought this book and promised an honest review, which sadly means now and again I have to be negative about a book. I would gladly give another work by Moore a chance, it is clear his imagination is brilliant, however his translation to the page leaves something to be desired.