Book Review: The Columbus Affair, Steve Berry

I usually love Steve Berry books. I grab them off the shelves and read them quickly because they’re genuine page-turners and damn interesting. The Columbus Affair, however, wasn’t quite either of these. I turned the pages more to get to the end and it was only interesting in parts.

Basically (without spoiling the story) this novel follows the adventures of a journalist, Tom Sagan, who as the book opens is about to commit suicide. He discovers he’s “the Levite” a keeper of a special Jewish treasure that has ties back to the days of Columbus and his voyages to the Americas. This knowledge sets off a chain of events and dangerous adventures that puts lives on the line (of course!). Spanning Europe, America, Jamaica and South America, the book is, in typical Berry fashion, wide in temporal and geographical scope. It also features the Magellan Billet, though no Cotton Malone.

Overall, however, I felt this book wasn’t up to the standard of his others – it was too didactic. Berry was determined to show off his research and the knowledge he gained and subsequently played with (the way he sometimes does this is very clever), but I felt the narrative suffered as a consequence. There was too much telling. Another reason I didn’t feel this book was as good as his previous ones was the decision to make a suicidal journalist his main protagonist. I didn’t mind the fact there was no Malone, as much as I like him. No, what made this character so problematic was for reasons the novel makes clear, this guy is basically despised by former colleagues (he’s stripped of his Pulitzer and his once fine reputation is in tatters) and completely alienated from his family. In other words, loathed by everyone. Therefore, it’s hard for the reader to like him as well. He had so few redeeming qualities. Likewise, his daughter, Alle, was a complete pain in the arse. I also found her stupid – and considering she was doing her PhD, some of the decisions she made and conclusions she leapt to, the people she put her faith in, didn’t ring true to me. The main villain, Zacariah, was so bad, a child would have run screaming from him – but not Alle. No, she gave him more chances than a casino. In the end, she came across as more of a convenient and sloppy narrative device that didn’t add any depth or richness to the tale.

I am sure many people will like this book and, really, I give it two and half stars. There are some good moments, some interesting ideas, but it was a bit too black and white and preachy for me. Nonetheless, this hasn’t deterred me. I will look forward to the next Berry book and continue to enjoy reading his back catalogue.

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