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 Patriot Threat by Steve Berry

24663810The Patriot Threat, by Steve Berry is the tenth in the Cotton Malone series and though it’s focussed very much on internal US matters and federal taxation, much of the action takes place in the Mediterranean.

It seems that there is a potential problem with the 16th Amendment, a problem that could bankrupt the entire government and impact severely on both the world economy and the US’s dominant position within it. With the proof of this problem about to be handed over to the enemy (in this instance, a fictitious North Korean scion of the Kim-Jong-Un dynasty), Malone is tasked with retrieving it before either a Kim uses it to bring down the US and the global economy or the Chinese do.

The usual suspects appear, Cotton, Luke and Danny Daniels and Stephanie Nelle and a new character is given a chance to show her chops, Isabelle Schaffer from the Treasury. Initially stuffy (and borrowing a wee bit from Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale), Isabelle soon finds her place and, possibly, an ongoing role in this series. Apart from the North Korean bad guys (including a niece whose back story is well told if harrowing) there are also some “accidental” villains in the form of US tax vigilantes who appear to dwell more in the realm of The X-Files and conspiracy theories than the real world and suffer as a consequence.

Mostly fast-paced, there is a tendency in this novel (and many of Berry’s books of late) to get bogged down in great tracts of quotes from “official” records from the past – some of which are actually documents that Berry quotes from, others which he makes up – as well as reams of history. I have noted in previous reviews how I find these direct quotes don’t add much to the narrative but seem to slow the pace to a snail’s crawl. I would rather a character paraphrases what they learn as, in the end, it’s the kernel of information within these historical manuscripts/certificates etc that drives the narrative forward and reconciles the plot. Berry is so concerned with “proving” his research and the lengths he goes to in order to tie his speculation to fact, that I think sometimes the fiction suffers as a consequence.

What is good about this novel is that while one relationship is in hiatus, another begins to grow, and if you’ve been following the series and the characters, that is gratifying in the extreme.

Overall, a good read. 3.5 stars.


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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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