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, Salzburg 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.