Tag Archives: Cotton Malone

The King’s Deception by Steve Berry Blog Tour

The King’s Deception by Steve Berry (Ballantine Books; 432 pages; $27).

Steve Berry

Steve Berry

Cotton Malone returns in Steve Berry’s newest novel The King’s Deception and the stakes have never been higher.  I am a huge Malone fan, and I must say that Berry’s eighth installment in the Malone series is his best and his most controversial yet.  The King’s Deception made my heart pound, my pulse race, and my eyes go wide.  I predict all Malone fans will have similar reactions.

The King’s Deception is actually a flashback.  Malone relives an experience he had two years previously in a conversation with his ex-wife, Pam.

Not only does Berry focus on Malone, his main character, but he also provides us perspectives from a wide-range of narrators, adeptly and easily juggling a large cast.  The insight we gain from these multiple viewpoints enhances the tale and makes us aware of many things that Malone himself is heedless of.

It all begins when Malone and his son Gary travel to Europe.  Recent revelations have stunned the father-son duo and they need quality time together to talk.  In other words, their luggage is not the only baggage they carry with them on their trip.

Malone has also agreed to do a favor for his former boss at the Justice Department, Stephanie Nelle.  Accompanying Malone and Gary is Ian, a fugitive teen from England.

If you expect a smooth ride, then you’ve never read one of Berry’s Cotton Malone novels.  Nothing is ever as Malone expects it to be.  A simple favor leads to a showdown that evolves into an international incident.  At the heart of which is the terrorist convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103, who the Scottish government has agreed to release for humanitarian purposes: the bomber is dying of cancer.  Malone finds himself in the middle of a politically-charged environment, an area in which he usually shines and this is no exception.

It’s a formula that continues to work for Berry, who modeled his protagonist partly on himself when he first created his personality for The Templar Legacy.  Berry says he and Malone share a lot of attributes: “The love of rare books.  He doesn’t like enclosed spaces, I don’t either.  He doesn’t drink alcohol.  He has finicky eating habits, so do I.   I, of course, don’t jump out of planes and shoot guns at bad guys, so I live that through him.”  Berry is just as talented at creating his antagonists, such as CIA operative Blake Antrim, who shares a rather unexpected connection with Gary.

If the above were not enough, Berry goes one step further, introducing a mind-boggling but intriguing historical mystery involving Queen Elizabeth I.  The King’s Deception claims that Elizabeth was really a man in disguise.  And not just any man, but the son of King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son.  The real Elizabeth, according to Berry’s fascinating tale, died as a child and an imposter was put in her place.  The truth was kept a secret, especially from the king.

Bunk, you say?  Well, the story is tantalizing but not wholly implausible.  Berry thinks the myth is “both possible and fascinating.”  “The most wonderful fiction,” he explains, “always has a ring of truth to it.  Here, everything centers around the Bisley Boy legend.  Three years ago, Elizabeth [his wife] and I were north of London doing some publicity work for my British publisher when our guide told me about a local legend.   In the village of Bisley, for many centuries on a [certain] day, the locals would dress a young boy in female Elizabethan costume and parade him through the streets.  How odd.  I then discovered that Bram Stoker [author of Dracula], in the early part of the 20thcentury, also heard the tale and wrote about it in a book called Famous Imposters, which I read.   I then kings deceptionbegan to read about Elizabeth I and learned of many odd things associated with her.”  A story idea was thus born.

If this conspiracy theory were true, the implications would be vast.  Berry plays devil’s advocate here: “What does it matter if this thing happened in history?   How is that still relevant today? So what if Queen Elizabeth I was an imposter?”  “Actually it would matter a great deal,” Berry elucidates.  “Great Britain itself would dramatically change, and not without violence.  This possible ‘so what’ was such a threat that my British publisher asked me to tone things down a bit so we don’t provide folks with any ideas.”  Conspiracy theory or not, Berry offers readers something to ponder and even investigate for themselves.

With fast-paced action, fully realized and complex characters, and a brilliant mystery at its heart, The King’s Deception is an explosive and pulsing historical thrill ride—one I wanted to get on all over again.









Filed under blog tour, book review, books, contemporary fiction, fiction, historical fiction, history, mystery, Summer Reading, thriller

The Columbus Enigma

The Columbus Affair by Steve Berry (Ballantine Books; 448 pages; $27).

            “In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  The simplicity of this rhyme belies the true nature of a man and a myth.  You think you know Christopher Columbus, but you know so little of the story.  Even after 520 years, much about him remains a mystery.  And that makes him good literary cannon fodder for Steve Berry.


Novelist Berry is best known for his books featuring the heroic protagonist Cotton Malone.  Whatever the assignment, Cotton is the man and saves the day in many of Berry’s novels, such as The Templar Legacy, The Alexandria Link, The Charlemagne Pursuit, and The Jefferson Key.  As you can see, Berry’s thrillers all have ties to European or American history. 


The Columbus Affair is a standalone novel.  Unfortunately, Cotton Malone does not grace these pages.  This reader missed him.  One “old” character Berry does employ is the head of the Magellan Billet, Stephanie Nelle.  From the beginning, then, Berry gives us something different: new characters.  But his penchant for playing with history remains.


Berry has fun with this novel.  Columbus is a man with whom he can play and even mold to his own needs.  I believe Berry chose Christopher Columbus as a topic simply because he is an enigmatic and controversial figure.


When I have the pleasure of teaching American history, I ask my students to write an essay in which they argue if Columbus was a hero or a villain.  Responses run the gamut.   Some point out that, while the Americas were already inhabited by Natives, he was the first European to set foot in America.  Others say his valor, if nothing else, should be celebrated.  After all, he sailed into the virtual unknown and deserves respect for that alone.  A few argue that this land on which we live would be very different had he not embarked on his four voyages.  More often than not, many others consider him one of history’s villains.  He paved the way for more European exploration and colonization, which ultimately led to the enslavement of Indians and Africans and the decimation of whole tribes from “virgin-soil epidemics.”  Everyone has an opinion about Columbus.  Love him or hate him; few are in between.


Berry’s Columbus is a dark, unknowable figure.  He is a keeper of secrets, a teller of lies, and a man with a hidden agenda.  Columbus says, “The English and Dutch call me Columbus.  The French, Columb.  The Portuguese, Colom.  Spaniards know me as Colón.  But none of those is my birth name.  Unfortunately, you will never know my true name….”  According to Berry, Columbus’s true name was Christoval Arnoldo de Ysassi; that makes him Jewish.  The Columbus we know was said to have been born in Genoa, Italy, and thus Italian–definitely not Jewish.  Berry also describes the inconsistencies over his birthdate.  Columbus himself gave different years: 1447 and 1453.  “The best guess is…1451.”  The day Columbus and his crew set sail on his first voyage also happened to be the morning after Ferdinand and Isabella expelled the Jews from Spain.  Coincidence?  Berry thinks so.  Especially given the fact that Columbus had a Hebrew translator on board and not one Catholic priest.  Interesting?  Very.  Perhaps more so when you discover that little tidbit is historically accurate. 


Berry will make you question everything you thought you knew about Columbus.  I mean everything.  From his birthplace to his birthdate to who financed his first voyage to his religion to his first language to his reason for sailing.  I urge you to not take anything Berry writes at face value.  Research Columbus for yourself.  Keep in mind this is fiction, and Berry writes with purpose.  He employs literary license in his story, and that is what makes The Columbus Affair so darn intriguing–not that it happened exactly as Berry writes but that it could have happened.


I could go on and on about the plot, but I do not want to spoil all the surprises (some shocking ones too!).  I will say that Berry weaves together historical and religious myths in this story.  I thought some were implausible and even downright wild at times, but the book is highly readable and compelling.  I dare you to stop reading this book.  You may gasp, you may emit a “ha!” but you will continue.  You are too engaged in this story to stop.  It really is the Columbus angle, more than any other element, that drives this story.


Berry takes all the mysteries surrounding Columbus and runs with them.  In the middle of all this, he tries to create characters, plot, and a setting, but really Columbus’s shadow looms over the entire book.  He is center stage while they are merely bit players, no matter how much Berry tries to make them stand out.  None of them are Cotton Malone.  None of them match Columbus’s mystery and magnetism.


In fact, Berry’s characters are too archetypical.  Zachariah Simon, the antagonist, is a villain with an ancient cause.  Tom Sagan is the story’s protagonist, once a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist wrongly accused of fabricating a story.  Alle Becket is Tom’s wayward daughter who, at the end of the book, returns to the fold.  Then, there is Béne, the Jamaican Maroon, who can be a hero or a villain depending on one’s lens.  From the beginning, I could see where these characters would go and how they would react.  My initial guesses were correct.  I only wish Berry had thrown some curve balls where they were concerned.


In The Columbus Affair, Berry is too preoccupied by Columbus.  He is too busy carving out an elaborate, unbelievable story that his other characters suffer in the process.  Then again, the title is all about Columbus.  He is the star of this show.  How I miss Cotton Malone.  Berry seems to know Malone intimately, as well he should.  Wonder when the next Cotton Malone will come out…


Filed under book review, books, fiction, history