4 out of 4 stars
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The Expansion is an engaging, thrilling crime novel by Swiss author Christoph Martin.
This book contains seventy-three chapters split into five parts and is told in multiple third-person limited perspectives. Most of the story unfolds around Max Burns, a British professor and geomatic engineer who is tapped by his old friend, Godfredo Roco, for a consortium bidding for the ambitious expansion of the Panama Canal. Unbeknownst to both of them, Godfredo’s father, Paco, is pulling strings and making crooked deals to guarantee a victory for the consortium. As controversy surrounds the bidding process, it is Max who gets the credit as well as the notoriety, attracting attention from the Chinese and American governments. When the chief auditor for the expansion project is murdered, all eyes are on Max, who scrambles to uncover the truth. Who can he trust, and what is to be gained from his being hurled under the bus?
Despite the density of this backdrop, the story demands very little knowledge of geomatics, political science or engineering from the reader. Martin’s style couches the jargon in verisimilitude; you the reader may not know anything about the Panama Canal’s impact on the environment or the ways the expansion could affect that, for instance, but the characters interact with a shared understanding of the complications before them and that allows you to follow along.
Chapter and part breaks come logically, signaling a change of scenery and sometimes a change of perspective. When the story jumps to another location, it is noted at the opening of the chapter. Ditto when the story makes large jumps of time, staying broadly in a month-year frame. Smaller chunks of time are not notated in this fashion, but context is always given to account for these small gaps -- and mostly these jumps in time allow the tedium of the subject matter to be handled “off-screen” while Martin presents another thread for the reader to unravel.
As a central protagonist, Max Burns is mild mannered and well educated as well as emotionally intelligent. He's not flawless, either: we find from the beginning that he is a combination of proud and naive, which allows him to be manipulated into the events that unfold in the story.
Ultimately, I give The Expansion 4 out of 4 stars because the novel is well written, the story is highly engaging, and the formatting is tastefully executed. I did not finding any glaring flaws or have any misgivings about the novel that would have resulted in a lower score. I recommend this one wholeheartedly to any crime or thriller fan.
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