Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Columbus Affair - Steve Berry

   2012; 526 pages (plus a 50-page short story).  New Author? : No.  Genre : Action-Thriller.  Overall Rating : 9½*/10.

    Talk about bad timing.  Disgraced investigative reporter Tom Sagan is just about to end it all by putting a bullet through his head when somebody knocks on his window.  He wants to show Tom a video of his daughter, bound and gagged, and in imminent danger of being harmed.

    This is a bit silly, really, since Tom and his daughter have been estranged for years.  Nevertheless, some sense of fatherly duty tugs at Tom, and hey, he can always kill himself some other day.  Especially when the ransom demand is so bizarre.  Instead of money, the kidnappers want Tom to do them one favor.

    They want the body of Tom’s father exhumed.

What’s To Like...
    The Columbus Affair has everything we’ve come to expect from a Steve Berry novel.  There are exotic settings, including Vienna, Prague, Jamaica, and Cuba.  The historical twist – and a Steve Berry book always has one – revolves around the hypothesis that Christopher Columbus was actually Jewish; and brought a secret cargo along with him to the New World.

    The excitement starts immediately, and the action and intrigue are nonstop thereafter.  The overall plotline is a treasure hunt, although none of the seekers, along with the reader, is exactly sure what the treasure is until the very end.  The evildoers are as resourceful as the good guys, and come in varying shades of gray.  I particularly liked Béne Rowe.  I also liked Berry’s handling of Israeli political stances – pragmatic, yet iron-willed – and the mindset of Israeli Orthodox Jews.

    The book is well-researched, and the history info dumps are plentiful and enlightening.  I especially enjoyed learning about the Maroons of Jamaica, their patriarchs (and matriarchs), and their long and surprisingly successful struggle for freedom.   Plot twists abound, and the jumping back and forth between the Caribbean and European settings means that there are no slow spots.  Everything builds to an exciting ending.  The only thing missing from the book is Cotton Malone (but see next paragraph), although Stephanie Nelle makes a cameo appearance late in the story, and one of the other characters is a Magellan Billet agent.

    Once again, Steve Berry takes the time to separate fact from fiction in the Writer’s Note that immediately follows the story.  After that is a 50-page short story, starring Cotton Malone, and having a tangential tie-in to the Columbus storyline.  The book ends with the opening chapters from the next Steve Berry offering, The King’s Deception, but I never read those teasers.

Kewlest New Word ...
Cacique (n.) : a Taino-derived title for the pre-Columbian chiefs of the tribes in some of the Caribbean islands.

    A grille of stalactites barred the passage, the rock thick and black, like metal.
    “The iron grille?” he asked.
    Frank nodded.  “A little fact creeps into every legend.”
    He recalled what else he’d been told.  “And men have died getting this far?”
    “That they have.”
    “What killed them?”
    “Curiosity.”  (pg. 368)

    “Sagan,” he yelled.
    He saw the light above, but not the man.  Then a face peered down close to the wall.  “There’s a way down.  See it there.”  He pointed his light.  “Come on.  Let’s keep going.”
    “Somebody just tried to kill us.”
    “I know.  But they didn’t, so let’s keep going.”
    “What if they come back?”
    “Actually, I hope they do.  It’ll save me the trouble of finding them.”  (pg. 462)

“Never tell more than half of what you know.  That’s not lying.  That’s smart.”  (pg. 433 )
    The quibbles are miniscule.  There are some riddles to be solved (another Steve Berry staple), but don’t waste your time trying to figure them out them before Tom Sagan does.   And I don’t recall one of them – Columbus’ enigmatic ‘signature’ – ever being explained, even though it makes an appearnce in the short story as well.

    If you’re not into history and/or travel, then the info dumps might get a bit tedious.  And although what everyone is chasing can rewrite history, in the end, nothing has changed.  But that’s the annoying norm with most history-thrillers.

    Ah, but I pick at nits.  The Columbus Affair is another  fine addition to Steve Berry's novels, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    9½ Stars.  Subtract 1 Star if you just gotta have Cotton Malone in your Steve Berry thrillers.  It would’ve been impossible to cast him as the protagonist here, although spoilers prevent me saying why.  And having co-protagonists would’ve been an awkward fit.

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