The Malta Independent 10 December 2018, Monday

‘The Malta Escape’ – US author bases new novel almost entirely in Malta

Stephen Calleja Sunday, 11 November 2018, 12:00 Last update: about 29 days ago

Three years after visiting Malta with two other American writers, New York Times bestselling author Chris Kuzneski on Friday published his book “The Malta Escape”, a thrilling novel which takes readers on a roller-coaster adventure mostly set on the island.

“The Malta Escape” marks a return by the author to the Payne & Jones series which made him famous and which he temporarily put aside in 2013 to introduce a new group of adventurers named the Hunters, who have been the protagonists of Kuzneski’s last two books.

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In “The Malta Escape”, the ninth publication in the Payne & Jones series, the duo are involved in a showdown against a Russian criminal as he seeks to locate a long-lost treasure of the Knights Hospitallers, believed to be buried in Malta.

Kuzneski’s connection with Malta started some years ago when he received a letter from a Maltese fan, and “just for fun”, as he explains in his author’s note at the end of his new novel, decided to mention the country in the book he was then writing, “The Lost Throne”.

Following that citation, as one of his readers, I had sent an email to Kuzneski, telling him that usually authors tend to exclude Malta, even on maps, and so I had been delighted to see my country’s name in his work. Kuzneski had replied within 24 hours to tell me that he had been surprised that his book had made it to Malta, given that he had no publisher here.

Since that exchange, the first of many that followed between us in subsequent years, Kuzneski made it a point to somehow always include Malta in the books that followed.

“Unwilling to mess with a good thing, I mentioned Malta again in ‘The Prophecy’ and have continued the tradition ever since, always finding a way to mention Malta in my novels,” Kuzneski explains in his note.

I had alerted the Malta Tourism Authority about Kuzneski’s regular references to Malta and, in 2015, he was invited over together with bestselling authors Boyd Morrison and Graham Brown.

The three spent a week visiting Malta’s tourist sites, many of which are now featured in “The Malta Escape”. 

“We were given private access to several of Malta’s most important documents and historical sites. Needless to say, we were blown away by the MTA’s hospitality and have viewed Malta as our home away from home since that once-in-a-lifetime adventure,” Kuzneski says.

Both Morrison, who came over with his wife Randi, and Brown have also published books with Malta serving as settings in their stories.

Chris Kuzneski (left) with Graham Brown and Boyd Morrison on their Malta trip three years ago

As “The Malta Escape” was published internationally on Friday, I again caught up with Chris to ask him a few questions. This is how he replied:

What made you return to Payne and Jones after writing two books in the award-winning Hunters series?
Based on fan mail, the Payne & Jones series is my most popular series. Then again, it probably isn't a fair comparison since the duo has been around for six more books than Jack Cobb and the Hunters. Not that Payne and Jones care about fighting fair. Those guys will exploit any advantage they can get and will crack jokes while they're doing it.

Speaking of jokes, are readers to expect the usual humorous banter between the duo?
Absolutely! If anything, I decided to crank up their banter to an all-time high. Although there are several good action-adventure series out there, I feel the one thing that sets the Payne & Jones series apart is the humour. In reality, my books are action-adventure comedies. Or comic-action adventures. Or action-comic adventures. Truth be told, I don't actually know how to describe them, but I do know that they're funny. And I think THE MALTA ESCAPE is my funniest book yet.

What kind of adventure will they be following?
Payne and Jones fly to Malta for a well-deserved vacation and bump into an old friend who is searching for a long-lost treasure of the Knights Hospitallers -- a treasure with possible ties to Paul I and the Russian Empire. When Ivan Volkov, the ruthless leader of a Russian crime syndicate, learns about the ancient hoard, he does everything in his power to make sure that he finds it first, even if that means destroying half of Malta to get it. I know that doesn't sound very funny, but trust me, Payne and Jones have a way of finding humour in just about everything.

What specific locations in Malta are featured in the book?
Since I'm totally in love with your country, I featured as much of Malta and its history as possible. Major locations in the book include the National Library, the Upper Barrakka Gardens, the Grand Harbour, Sliema, and Birgu. When people finish reading this novel, I want them to do two things. First, I want them to go to my website (chriskuzneski.com) to take the virtual tour of the book, because the pictures of Malta do your country more justice than my words ever could. Then I want them to buy tickets to visit Malta to see it for themselves. Unless you're sick of tourists, in which case I can tell all of my readers that THE MALTA ESCAPE is a work of fiction and the country doesn't actually exist. Just let me know as soon as possible, so I know how to handle the media.

Where will the book be published?
The English-language version of THE MALTA ESCAPE will be available in hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook from online stores around the globe on November 9, and the audio book will be released as soon as they're done recording it. In addition, I also signed a Maltese deal with Miller Distributors, who will be publishing a mass-market paperback in Malta.

Will it be translated into other languages?
My literary agents just attended the Frankfurt Book Fair in October, where they actively shopped THE MALTA ESCAPE to foreign publishers. Once foreign editors have a chance to read it, we should start getting offers from foreign markets. So far, my books have been published in more than twenty languages, which I find funny since I can't speak any of them. Heck, if you listen to my critics, I even struggle with English.

Any hope of seeing you in Malta again?
Definitely! My first trip to Malta was simply magical, and yet there were so many things I didn't get to do and see. I fully expect to visit Malta again and again in the coming years, so much so that you'll probably get sick of seeing me.

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