The Alexandria Link by Steve Berry

Having read so many of the Steve Berry, Cotton Malone, books, I finally decided to return to the beginning of the series and read the ones I’ve so far missed. The first on my list was The Alexandria Link, which according to various websites, is Cotton Malone #2.

12157050As per usual, the reader is plunged into the action, before the narrative divides into three threads: in one, we follow Malone as he’s sent on a mission to recover the Alexandria Link. Apparently, he’s the only person in the world who knows what (actually, it’s who) this is. The second story line involves his former boss, Stephanie, and the marvellous Cassiopeia Vitt who are busy uncovering government corruption at the highest levels. The third story line involves a mysterious sect of powerful and wealthy men and those who rule them – they too want the Alexandria Link and will do anything to possess it, thus they kidnap Malone’s son, Gary.

So, before Malone can follow orders, he has to recover his son. When his ex-wife arrives to “help” him, things become fiery and the danger quotient is upped – this is mainly due to the presence of Pam Malone (see my comments on this below).

Moving from one storyline to the other, the narrative progresses towards a climax and the exposure of a secret so great it could unravel not only the major world religions, but the entire geo-politics of the globe as well.I admit, the great library at Alexandria and the promise there might be a “link” to it, even though it was destroyed by a catastrophic fire in ancient times is terrifically appealing and, in principle, the plot surrounding the library, and those chosen to protect it is a good one. I also didn’t mind the way Berry fiddled with historical and religious details in order to invent a cataclysmic “truth”. All good so far…

What I did mind was a few things that let down an otherwise fast and entertaining read. images-1The almost caricature-like portraits of the “baddies” (there is no other way to describe them – meaning they are two-dimensional and like something out of an early Bond movie. I was imagining Blofeld – even the thick accent and sycophantic henchmen were there. All the head honcho (bad) needed was a pet cat to stroke and possibly outrageous and heavily waxed mustachios to twirl).

However, compared to how some of the women are portrayed, this was nothing. Whether it was Stephanie being deliberately and, frankly, uncharacteristically obtuse to the point of wilful stupidity (mostly to further a plot point or allow a male to prove himself noble and her wrong) and being called or thought inept, an “arse” and various other names by men in power, including the President (it was interesting having read the later books to see how Stephanie and Danny Daniels relationship commenced) and having a marked lack of respect for them, or Pam Malone being a stupid bitch (I accept that she may take umbrage at her ex ordering her around the first time, but when her ignoring him almost causes loss of life and then she does it again, I thought this is just beyond plausible and makes her look like an utter fool; never mind when she chucks a hissy fit later in the book), I found it hard to swallow (admittedly, there is growth in Cotton and Pam’s new relationship later and that was good to read). Then you have the villain’s ugly daughter. Of course, she couldn’t be attractive, could she, that’s reserved for the likes of Cassiopeia or the “good” gals. I don’t know whether it’s just me, but these characterisations stuck in my craw. Again, I’ve no objection to Pam being shitty and angry and blaming her ex, but that this intelligent woman deliberately courted danger, causes death and then, in the middle of an operation, knowing Malone is the person she has to rely on to survive, does what she does just to gratify her rage and fright was so unnecessary and didn’t fit with the growth you felt occurring. Mind you, his actions didn’t either. He withheld information and then used that against her: and for what? So, he could get a little payback or just “keep the peace”? Didn’t gel at so many levels. Maybe it’s just me.

Finally, the Stephanie/US/Israeli governments storyline was made more complex than it needed to be and was, frankly, confusing in parts.

Overall, however, it is a good escapist read and I was able to put my misgivings aside as the end came quickly and I turned the pages eager to discover what happened next. I gave this 3.5 stars – the descriptions of various places were great, but the library, which Berry pulled from his imagination, is the one that lingers.


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The 14th Colony by Steve Berry

26159183I’ve not been feeling quite the love for Steve Berry’s books as I used to, finding the more recent ones (The Patriot Threat is so far exempt – I’m currently reading it) relied to heavily on exposition rather than simply allowing the characters and plot to drive the story. With The 14th Colony, however, Berry has a return to form with a fascinating, fast-paced and action-filled adventure that pits Cotton Malone and what remains of the Magellan Billet and friends against the US’s old foe – the former Soviet Union and a number of retired agents who have allowed their misplaced loyalty to a dead ideology and regime to not only fester, but metamorphose into something deadly.

In the final days of the presidency of Danny Daniels, Malone is sent into Russia by his former boss, Stephanie Nelle to see if he can discover the whereabouts of a missing Russian archivist. Instead, Malone fights for his life as he is first shot down, attacked, relentlessly chased and then encounters first hand the drive and passion of ex-KGB agent, Aleksandr Zorin.

Discovering a huge flaw in the US constitution that would render the country ungovernable should the unthinkable happen and the incoming president, VP and all under them perish, Zorin and remaining sleeper agents in the west, have kept secret the means to bring political chaos about – until now.

Armed with weapons thought to belong more in the realm of fiction than fact, and information garnered from the archives of a reclusive patriotic group, the Society of Cincinnati, Zorin and those who share his myopic vision, set about bringing America to its knees.

From the first chapter, the clock counts down as preparations for the presidential inauguration commence and Zorin’s diabolical and, it seems, unstoppable plan, are put in motion.

From the ice-wastelands of Russia, to Canada and various locations around the USA, the reader is taken on a roller-coaster ride as not only Malone, but those he’s relied upon in previous adventures, rush to his aid: Luke Daniels, Stephanie, the soon-to-be-retired, Daniels, and even his estranged lover, Cassiopeia.

Shifting points of view and missions as well as enemies both within and without the two major powers make this a rollicking read. Mixing fact and fiction, Berry poses the question “what if?” and then creates a terrific read around an improbable and frightening possibility.

My only reservation is his tendency to didacticism – the need to incorporate what’s clearly painstaking research into the novel. I would prefer to be shown or have the parts of the constitution and various documents that are utilised paraphrased. As a reader, I trust Berry to take me for the ride without these sidebars of “proof”. I found them interesting but ultimately, in terms of reading pleasure, distracting.

Overall, a good, exciting read that kept me awake into the wee hours.

Berry is back.

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Book Review: The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry

Yet again, with The Lincoln Myth, Steve Berry has written a book that demonstrates the depth of research and physical effort he goes into in order to write his Cotton Malone (and other) adventures. This time, Berry takes the reader to Malone’s bookstore and other environs around Copenhagen as well as Washington, Utah, SalzbuThe Lincoln Myth (Cotton Malone, #9)rg and Denmark. He also takes us back in time to the years when Abraham Lincoln was President of the USA and made a fraught decision that would save the fledgling nation. Lincoln’s decision remained a secret, one passed down from President to President. It’s a secret that could alter the very fabric of the Constitution, and would have terrible repercussions if it was ever divulged. This is the premise on which The Lincoln Myth is based – that, and other popular misconceptions about Lincoln – the man and his motives – as well as the early Mormons, the persecution they suffered and their efforts to escape intolerance. This great secret connects the Mormons, Lincoln and the Constitution, but if it were every divulged it could rend not just history and various iconic figures, but start a war. So why would anyone want to expose it?

Well, they do, and the clock is ticking. It’s up to supposedly retired Cotton and a new and unwilling side-kick (and in many ways, a younger version of Malone himself) to save the day. Making appearances again are his boss, Stephanie, who is more frustratingly elusive than usual, the gorgeous Cassiopeia Witt, and a seemingly naïve but likeable Master of History student. Along with the women, there’s a maniacal Spaniard, and some fairly orthodox Mormons. Let the games begin.

Divided on lines similar to the Civil War, instead of North and South, we have Pro Malone and Against Malone and Berry tries to persuade us that sometimes it’s hard to tell who is rooting for who… but it isn’t that difficult. As I’ve found with his last couple of books, Berry sacrifices story-telling and sometimes it appears, even character development in order to cram a lot of didactic information into his tale. Whereas the history of the Mormon Church is fascinating and its relationship to the Constitution unusual as is his version of the politics surrounding the Civil War, I found my eyes glazing over as long-winded conversations and explanations continued. It was like the book was taken over by a boring professor and the drama teacher was kicked out of the classroom. The action (which Berry does very well) ground to a halt and we were provided with yet another history lesson in lieu of the stuff exciting books are made on. I speed-read pages of this novel just so I could get to the part that mattered which is, after all, the interaction between the major characters, the heart of the tale, and the thickening plot. Both were thin on the ground in what could have been a rollicking story.

I also found Cassiopeia – a terrific character – to be a wee bit shallow here. How could her affections change so abruptly? And for an intelligent woman who is practiced in espionage and the duplicity of seemingly good people, she was quite ready to believe the worst of someone who has proven himself and the best of someone she hasn’t seen in years. That grated.

I never really believed in the potential of a Civil War to erupt, no matter how much history and evidence was pushed down my throat – and I think that was the main problem for me here. I so love Cotton and the other familiar characters Berry uses, but I didn’t love this adventure. It was duller than most and unconvincing almost from the beginning. Two and a half stars.

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Book Review: The Emperor’s Tomb by Steve Berry


There’s no doubt that when Steve Berry decides to write a book set in a different country to his native one, he researches every last fact he can – from its people, politics, climate and geography, to its history. The Emperor’s Tomb is no different in that regard – the tomb referred to being the one containing the terracotta warriors associated with one of the ancient Chinese dynasties and, as it turns out, so much more as well.

The Emperor's Tomb (Cotton Malone, #6)The story features Cotton Malone, former naval pilot and lawyer and member of the mysterious Magellan Billet who, two years earlier, retired to run a second bookstore in Copenhagen. Only, we rarely if ever get to see Malone in the store let alone reading as he’s always called upon to intervene in a global crisis – including in this novel.

When he’s sent a mysterious note with a web address and logs on to find his friend, the marvellously named and very beautiful Cassiopeia Vitt being tortured, he embarks on a whirlwind adventure that will take him to China and immerse him in a conspiracy that involves the Chinese government, the Russians and, of course, the United States as well. That his life is constantly at risk goes without question, but so is that of others, including a four year old boy.

On the brink of a new era, the current Chinese government is due for a change of leadership and there are two men currently vying for the role: one is a ruthless Legalist who will stop at nothing, destroying whatever and whoever stands in his way to achieve power. The other follows a different ideology and eschews violence as a solution unless it’s absolutely necessary, only he lacks the knowledge and support to be a serious contender.

With the Russians, Americans and the powerful Ba sect, a group of eunuchs who seem omniscient, pulling the strings and operating behind the scenes, saying one thing, promising and doing another, violence seems to be the only recourse for everyone. Enter Cotton Malone – not afraid to be the knight errant or even enter communist countries illegally if it means he will save the world. And, of course, violence is his middle name.

But Malone hadn’t counted on Chinese ingenuity, their ability to twist the truth or the past; nor can he rely on those he once believed could be trusted. And so the stage is set for a showdown of epic proportions, one that can change the balance not only in China, but the world.

For all that I can appreciate the research Berry does, and the travel he engages with and his passion to include a great deal of what he learns in his stories to give them authenticity, I feel this novel overdoes it. The plot was quite convoluted and the characters very two-dimensional, stereotypical and predictable. Further, the level of didacticism in this book took away from the story and slowed the pace to a crawl at some points. There were even repetitive bits – for example, on how one is made a eunuch. It was wince-worthy enough the first time (as well as interesting) but reading the details twice smacked of error and poor editing and diluted the effect. Likewise, a number of interesting facts about China were also repeated, rendering them redundant the second time around.

While the biotic and abiotic oil issue was fascinating, again, the plot had so many levels and unnecessary twists and turns, it became more like a labyrinth and I needed Ariadne’s thread to find my way out again.

Overall, however, it was a quick read – a bit of adventure brain candy and, hey, it featured Cotton Malone, a literary chick’s version of the stuff. So, in many ways, it served its purpose but I don’t think it’s as good as some of Berry’s other books.

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Book Review: The Charlemagne Pursuit, Steve Berry

I generally love Steve Berry books. They’re reliable action/thrillers with a great protagonist, Cotton Malone, former Magellan Billet agent and now a bookshop owner (which you have to love). Berry’s books also possess a good dose of fanciful history – meaning, he researches them, used aspects of known history and adds his own deft touches. While The Charlemagne Pursuit ticked some of the boxes in that it featured Cotton, was action-packed and had some reconstructed history woven through the plot-line, including maps and hieroglyphs, something happened between the idea and the execution; something that rendered the finished product less than satisfactory.

Ostensibly, this novel is about Cotton being given the file that reveals “the truth” of how his father, a Captain on a top-secret US submarine, died while on a classified mission. Told one version of events from the age of ten, Cotton discovers he’s been deceived (he “can’t handle the truth”) and this sends him off on a journey of self-discovery. But the truth can be a dangerous thing, especially when it threatens those who for years have relied on keeping it hidden to maintain their positions.

Learning that Cotton threatens to expose secrets kept for decades, there are those at the top of the US defence tree who will do anything to ensure secrets lay buried, even if means Cotton’s (and anyone else involved) interred with them.

The action takes place in parallel narratives and moves from part of Europe, to the USA and, ultimately, Antarctica. While I could accept most of the improbable story-line (it’s Steve Berry after all, and I’m prepared to have some fun), the part I struggled most with were the villains. It’s as if Berry found them in Villains ‘R Us. First, there were the German characters, the malevolent matriarch and her beautiful twin daughters, Dorothea Lindauer and Christl Faulk, as well as the family’s henchman, Igor, I mean, Ulrich Henn. Then there were the American baddies – two naval personnel and a hired assassin. All of these people appeared to kill willy-nilly (even those who have shown loyalty and the ability to keep secrets – why? To add to the book’s body-count? Surely, as is the case, these connected deaths simply arouse suspicion…? D’oh!), or without really thinking through the consequences of the deaths.

Co-incidentally, Dorothea and Christl’s father was also onboard the submarine controlled by Malone’s dad and, like Malone, they’re interested in separating fiction from fact but to do that, they need the file Cotton has just been handed. Hovering between aiding Cotton and trying to kill him (for really, really senseless reasons), the women in this family come across as two-dimensional clichés. They were so bland and predictable and basically, idiotic. For example, one of the sisters just kills people at random. Likewise, the sisters’ relationship is explained in such Freudian 101 terms, it was laughable. They’re forty-eight and mummy still manipulates their hearts, minds and thus actions? They seek her (and dead daddy’s) approval constantly? Didn’t buy it – not even when their massive inheritance is thrown in for good measure. Nothing they or their mother did made sense – their motivations, their insistence on mis-leading, deceiving, aligning themselves with various people (just ‘cause?), making phone calls, tormenting, whether for good or not, didn’t even propel the plot, they mostly hindered it. I couldn’t believe that Berry had constructed such pathetic, misguided, stereotyped women who were narcissistic, selfish and dull. Seen through Cotton’s eyes, we’re told the twins are beautiful, all right, but when he concedes they’re smart, courageous, conflicted, deceitful or hurting or anything else, we’re told, not shown in the writing. That Cotton sleeps with one is just ridiculous in terms of his character. While I accept he may have just wanted a shag, it wasn’t presented that way and appeared more a lapse of reason that was just plain out of character. Cotton is not a skirt-chaser.

As for the American bad guys – again, poorly constructed clichés that serve the story one-dimensionally. They were also patently obvious in their Machiavellian ways, which makes me wonder why it took so long to tumble them? I mean, one of the guys has been murdering his way to the top for years (and one of the female characters has no trouble exposing all of this when it suits the narrative – so how come every other idiot in the Whitehouse can’t do the same???), and no-one notices? That’s just silly…

I could continue, but I won’t, because it’s not all bad and there are some genuinely thrilling moments.

Evoking the spectres of Nazis, Charlemagne, Aryans, angels, heavenly language and the possibility of an advanced race who roamed the planet long before we humans were capable of such advanced exploration, never mind advanced subs, polar exploration, and dysfunctional family dynamics this book really tries to cover a great deal.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I hoped and that’s because the female characters (with the slight exception of Stephanie Nelle) pissed me off. So did all the villains. I just couldn’t believe in them in any way shape or form. Worse, I couldn’t credit that Cotton would either.

Perhaps that’s credit to how firmly Berry has established Cotton has a protagonist in fans’ minds that I found his dealings with the twins and their mother ridiculous and unlikely. Sadly, because they’re the core of this story, it renders the plot and its execution weak.

Overall, not a great addition to the Malone series, but I will keep reading them because I know Berry can also produce the narrative goods.





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