3 out of 4 stars
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The Expansion by Christoph Martin follows brilliant British geomatic engineer Max Burns in the project of his life: the expansion of the Panama Canal. Burns is recruited by his childhood friend Godfredo Roco to work for his father’s company and design the winning bid for the politically-charged mega-project. However, everything is not as it seems: corruption is rampant and everyone is looking out for their own skin first. Burns is seemingly the only one involved with no secrets to hide and content just to keep at his work for the enjoyment of it. However, Burns' strength is tested when his own name is tossed into the foray and his life and livelihood are put at extreme risk.
My favorite character in the book was Karis Deen, a young woman working on the ground who catches Max’s eye. Deen has her own secrets to guard, and I enjoyed the revelation of discovering who she really is and what she’s doing in Panama. I also liked the character development of troubled party-boy Godfredo Roco, though I thought his character was annoying, especially in the beginning. Despite this, I thought that almost all of the characters were cliché and unoriginal. These characters are not very unique; I thought that most of their actions are rather predictable and that they are not particularly distinguishable from common "trope" characters. Max Burns in particular I thought was boring and flat. His character has the most build-up and history: his parents’ tragic end, his broken engagement, his simple and lovable uncle waiting for him back in Britain. I was disappointed in the culmination of this backstory, though. None of it seemed relevant to the story at hand other than to build his history and make him a tragic, sympathetic character. Perhaps these aspects of his life will come into play in the sequels; the murder-suicide of his parents appears to play a particularly important role as the opening scene of the epilogue but is only sparingly mentioned again as the book progresses.
In addition to the cliché characters, I thought that the dialogue was cheesy, unorganic, and predictable, especially between Max Burns and Godfredo Roco. I didn’t believe that adult men would speak to each other in this fashion. I also thought it unrealistic that Godfredo’s father Paco Roco, the cruel and corrupt owner of the company from Argentina, would use this kind of slang and speak so informally as an international businessman.
I did get hooked on the exciting build-up of the intrigue and betrayal, but unfortunately this aspect of the plot didn’t come into play until almost ¾ of the way into book. The first half of the book was slow, as it was mostly building-up character history. Once the action got going, though, I was all in. However, the excitement ended almost as quickly and it began. According to my Kindle, the best part of the action (in my own opinion) didn’t begin until I was about 90% through the book and I thought that the book would end on a cliff-hanger, but then all of the loose ties were summed up in only a few pages at the end. It was rather sudden and disappointing.
The book was very well edited; I did not find any typos or grammar errors. I liked that each chapter begins with the location and date, it was much easier to follow the plotline this way. Overall, I give The Expansion 3 out of 4 stars. I would like to give the book 2.5 stars if I could, due to my criticism of the cliché characters and slow plot development, but I will round up to 3 because I did enjoy Deen’s role in the action-packed climax. This book may appeal to readers interested in political drama, spy mysteries, and corporate intrigue and betrayal.
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