4 out of 4 stars
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Have you ever pondered about how a massive, internationally sought after engineering project gets off the ground? Have you ever realized that when many nations are competing against each other not only to win a bid like this but maintain their national interest in an area, tensions are extraordinarily high? Christoph Martin, the author of this book, most definitely has and he uses this (and more) to set the stage for his exceptional thriller, The Expansion. This book dips the reader's toe into the cutthroat business world, the sleaziness of corporate espionage, the intrigue of clandestine agencies, and centers it all on the expansion of one of the most influential waterways in the world: The Panama Canal.
Although the book is written from multiple perspectives, the story line mainly follows a British geomatics engineer, Max Burns, as he embarks on the opportunity of a lifetime. Leaving a steady job (and his future wife) behind, Max Burns makes his way to Panama where he has been given the opportunity to be a part of a British company's bid for the contract to expand the Panama Canal. Although they are not the only company putting in a bid, Max collaborates with his long-lost childhood friend to lead a top-notch team in the presentation of a winning submission. Unfortunately, things are not as straightforward as they may seem. Plans for another canal in Nicaragua put into question the motives of the Chinese, the Americans have vested interest in the Panama canal and may do anything to ensure their continued influence, intelligence agencies are monitoring all involved, and back-door deals are a dime a dozen.
This book has a lot of amazing things going for it. I loved how in the first chapters, the main character(s) backstory is given to the readers in order to provide context. Additionally, it is a fast-paced novel that keeps you on your toes from a very early on. The author easily sucks you into a story based on the actual competition towards winning the Panama canal expansion bid, keeps you interested when all of the intrigue is introduced, glues you to the pages as the heat is turned up on all of the characters, and leaves you wishing for more as you finish that last page. Finally, the author is able to bring all of the "main elements" of a novel to the reader without going overboard. For example, for the first time in a long time I read a romantic element within a story without being subjected to the author's raunchy description of a sex scene. What I liked the best, however, was that there were several plot twists that keep you guessing. Unlike many of the thrillers on the market these days it is not readily obvious in this book what the final solution is going to be. Martin has created a situation so explosive that any plot twist you can think of could potentially be the reality.
The only issue at all that I have with this book is the blatant cliffhanger left at the end of the novel. I understand that all of the money in literature these days is in series and sequels, but I am not a fan of the implicit hook at the end of a novel which essentially all but states, "to be continued." That being said, this is a relatively short (~300 page) book and there is ample room for additional tales within the same character base/plot. A sequel would not be unwelcome.
This book was a pleasure to read and is an exciting story, for that reason I have no qualms whatsoever giving it 4 out of 4 stars. This book is meant for a wide variety of audiences including those who love crime/thrillers, those that like a short "airport book", and those that simply like a fast paced novel that keeps them glued to the pages. There are very few readers that wouldn't enjoy this book, but if you are inherently against the C/T/M/H genre, this clearly fits within it, and would therefore not be for you. When Christoph Martin comes out with the sequel to The Expansion I can tell you right now that I will be chomping at the bit to get a copy.
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