Author: Steve Berry, 2011
Genre: Action/Adventure. Conspiracy Thriller
Other Details: Hardback. 480 pages.
Former Justice Department agent Cotton Malone has been asked by Stephanie Nell, the head of his old unit, to come to New York. So he and Cassiopeia Vitt leave Denmark and plan to have a luxury mini-break in the Big Apple. However, Cotton hardly has a chance to unpack before he finds himself caught up in an attempt on President Danny Daniels life. The Commonwealth, a secret society of pirates first formed during the American Revolution, is the shadowy group behind the assassination attempt and it appears not to be the only time they've sought to eliminate Presidents who thwart their plans..
Also involved is Jonathan Wyatt, a rogue agent holding a grudge against Cotton and happy to see him implicated in the assassination attempt. Then there is the duplicitous head of a US intelligence agency, who seems happy to double-cross everyone to achieve her own ends. At the heart of the novel is a cipher created by Thomas Jefferson that will provide the key to the location of a centuries old document that the Commonwealth have been seeking since the time of Andrew Jackson's presidency.
This latest in the series departed from the former ones by being set on US soil. It involved a great deal of spy vs. spy (vs. pirates) shenanigans and I did contemplate keeping a scorecard as to who was currently betraying who and serving as double or triple agents. While I enjoyed this as I have all the Cotton Malone novels, I did feel that the pacing was somewhat off. Berry kept cutting from one tense situation to another, sometimes having a scene of only a few lines, and often this just felt too choppy. The quick-fire jumping about actually decreased the tension in some scenes.
Still the novel was great fun and very hard to put down. As always I appreciated Berry's closing notes in which he explained what was fact in terms of locations and historical events and what was fiction and/or dramatic licence. There was also a fair amount of information about pirates and privateers in the story. Fascinating stuff and by coincidence a couple of days after I finished reading there was a sketch on CBBC's Horrible Histories featuring pirates that echoed some of the same historical background.
My only minor quibble was that there was no mention by author or publisher that there had been a short story, The Devil's Gold, issued as an ebook that introduced Jonathan Wyatt and gave more details of the past relationship with Cotton Malone when they were both active federal agents. Apparently the US paperback edition did contain this short story as bonus material.
Steve Berry's Jefferson Key Page - includes link to excerpt.