Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Jefferson Key - Steve Berry

   2011; 508 pages.  (570 pages, if you include the ‘extras’).  Book Six (out of nine, and soon to be ten) in the “Cotton Malone” series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Action; Thriller.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    The New York City assassination attempt on the president was well-planned.  Two remote-controlled high-powered guns, from upper story hotel windows, in rooms rented a week earlier.  Plus, Cotton Malone set up to be the patsy.

    The thing is, the presidential visit was unannounced, so very few people knew about it beforehand.  That means there’s a leak somewhere.  And bizarrely enough, the perpetrators might be pirates.

    Well, privateers, actually.  It really irks them to be called ‘pirates’. 

What’s To Like...
    As with any Steve Berry novel, the action starts immediately, and never lets up.  There are multiple plotlines going on simultaneously, and a zillion cliffhanger points, which Berry uses to switch from one thread to another.  This scene-shifting can get excessive – sometimes 4 or 5 jumps in two pages – but it is an effective device to keep you wanting to see what happens next.

    There are a slew of plot twists, a slew of government intelligence agencies, and a slew of characters to keep track of.  The bad guys especially can get confusing with regards to who works for who, and that changes occasionally. All the characters are “gray” to some extent.  The POTUS has secrets he’d rather not tell, and even the baddest of the baddies has at least a couple admirable traits.  Jonathan Wyatt is of a particularly fascinating gray hue.

    The Jefferson Key is a standalone novel, but it helps if you’re already familiar with regulars – Cotton, Stephanie, Cassiopeia, and Danny Daniels.  The settings are less exotic than usual – NYC, DC, North Carolina, and Nova Scotia.  There’s just a modicum of swearing, no sex scenes, but there is some graphic violence in the form of a couple torture episodes.

    The more-recent Steve Berry novels always include extras at the end – a Writer’s Note (what’s real and what’s fictional), a short story (here, a 54-page “prequel” adventure spotlighting Wyatt), and a sneak peek at the next book in the series.  The first two are worthwhile reads; I never read the sneak previews.

    He cut a glance at the two antsy agents, who held their position.
    Not to worry, he thought.  Soon you’ll both join the fray.
    He returned his attention to his dinner, a delicious Cobb salad.  His stomach bubbled with anxiety.  He’d waited a long time for this.  Camp by the riverside.  Advice he’d received years ago – and as true as ever.  If you waited by the river long enough, eventually your enemies would float by.  (pg. 206)

    “Do you love her?”
    “Not anymore.”
    The admission shocked her.
    “I haven’t in a long time.  It’s not malice, or hate, or anger.  Just nothing.”
    His mellow tone unnerved her.  She was accustomed to the booming voice.
    “Does she know?”
    “How could she not?”  (pg. 354)

 “Privateers were the nursery of pirates.”  (pg.  102)
    At times The Jefferson Key seemed a bit over the top.  The final, dashing rescue is exciting, but requires a significant suspension of belief; and Cotton has to do some fancy stepping to save the day both in Nova Scotia and North Carolina.  Not all the threads are tied up (but perhaps carry over into the next book?), and one, the “second traitor” thread, just seems to fizzle out.  In spots, it felt like I was reading a Clive Cussler novel, and that is not a plus for me.  I also don’t recall the previous books being so graphically violent, but it’s been a while since my last Cotton Malone book.

    Nevertheless, Steve Berry is my favorite Action-Thriller author, and that hasn’t changed after reading The Jefferson Key.  His style may be formulaic, but he excels at it.  His books are always well-researched and his twists to history are always original and innovative.  The idea of pirates . . . oops, I mean privateers. . . operating in present-day America is totally kewl.

    8½ Stars.  Highly recommended.  Add  ½ star if Dirk Pitt is your kind of hero.

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