Crown Jewel by Christopher Reich
The publishing industry is replete with high-quality novels featuring James Bond-like characters set in exotic locales. Tough, smart men—and the occasional woman protagonist—run into danger and win the day utilizing their smarts and muscle. Crown Jewel falls into this genre, however, it does not measure up to a very high bar. This jewel is tarnished.
Protagonist Simon Riske (“the ‘e’ is silent”) is not very smart. In fact, he is remarkably adept at doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Seldom has there been a “hero” who makes so many poor decisions and receives so many beatings, a couple of which appeared to be certain death. He often seems to be a cartoon Wile E. Coyote who can plunge off a cliff and spring back immediately ready for the next confrontation. He is billed as “an investigator, problem solver, and all-around busybody….He was the man you went to when you couldn’t go to anybody else.” A thief as a young adult, Riske is a graduate of the Sorbonne. He is not as suave as James Bond, nor as capable and tough as Jack Reacher. His “front” is that of the proprietor of a garage for the restoration of extremely high-end automobiles.
Riske is minding his own very successful restoration business one day when his friend Lord Toby Stonewood comes to him with a problem: his casinos are losing millions of dollars every day. It just happens that the playboy son of a sheik comes in because he has damaged his father’s 1970-71 Daytona Spider (apparently worth many thousands of dollars) and needs it repaired. This coincidence is somehow the solution to the first problem, as Riske can now drive it in a time trial in Monte Carlo where Stonewood has a magnificent casino. And, Riske has just the connections to get the equipment to catch the cheaters who are taking the casino to the cleaners.
Dov Dragan is running the time trial and seems to be a friend of Riske; however, he may have ties to the Brotherhood which, in turn, may be linked to the Serbian or Croatian crime world. Of course, Riske meets the Princess Victoria Brandenburg von Tiefen und Tassis, a woman so rich and beautiful that that is only part of her royal name. In helping her, Riske discovers a link to the Brotherhood and the enmity between the Serbs and the Croats. Then, the plot becomes even more convoluted and phantasmagorical.
There are murders, beatings, kidnappings, gorgeous yachts and cars, and high-speed chases up and down twisting mountain roads. All the elements of the genre are here, but the writing is simply not up to snuff. Naturally, a lot of people are “snuffed” in this novel. One death, for example, is so preposterous, even for this genre, that it demonstrates how sophomoric Crown Jewel truly is. This is the second in a series with a third one planned. Why?