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.
As 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. The 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.