Sunday, May 8, 2016

The 14th Colony - Steve Berry

   2016; 443 pages.  Book #11 (and most recent) in the Cotton Malone series.  New Author? : No.  Genre : Action-Thriller.  Overall Rating : 5*/10.

    The Russians can be quite accommodating at times.  They’ve given Cotton Malone open access to the parts of Siberia around Lake Baikal, so that he can locate one of their fugitive archivists.  Which is strange, since they know Malone is an American operative.

    They’ve even given him a plane to fly to Lake Baikal, albeit a biplane of World War 2 vintage.  To boot. they arranged all this through the proper channels, the American agency known as the Magellan Billet.  That's mighty cooperative of them.

    But when the first heat-seeking missile comes soaring up at his dinky little plane, it becomes clear that not everyone in Siberia is thrilled about Cotton’s presence.  And a modern-day missile versus a World War 2 aircraft is not exactly a fair fight.

What’s To Like...
    The 14th Colony follows Steve Berry’s standard formula for his Cotton Malone books – start the action early, and keep it going until the final chapter.  There’s a prologue to get through here (more about that later), but the action begins on the first page of Chapter 1, with the missile being launched on the fourth page.

    The chapters are short – there’s 79 of them, plus the prologue – so there’s always a good place to stop reading for the night.  And I liked the choices of Lake Baikal in Siberia and Prince Edward Island in Canada as major settings in the tale.  When's the last time you read a book set in either of those locales? 

    As usual, there’s about five separate plotlines going on, which Berry, as always, deftly ties together at the end.  This is a standalone novel, as well as part of the continuing saga of Cotton Malone.

    Unfortunately, there’s a lot here that disappointed me as well.  First of all, the historical tie-in, which is what I love the most about any Steve Berry novel, is humdrum and incidental.  The titular “14th Colony” doesn’t come into play until the very end, and Berry’s “secret” – that the US has developed invasion plans for Canada several times in the past – is frankly pretty lame.  He implies that Canada would be outraged at this; in reality Canada probably has their own set of plans for invading us.  Big whoop.

    The characters are flat and boring.  Cotton can do no wrong (we’ll allow that).  The Russians are all weak, corrupt, and depressed.  The President-elect is a liberal and therefore a fool, and outgoing POTUS Danny Daniels can dance circles around him without any effort at all.  And just wait till you see how Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul 2 are portrayed.

    Finally, there are the WTF’s.  I recognize that the thrills and spills need to be spectacular, but they also must be believable.  A Russian fighter plane plops Cotton into the back seat, and allows him to take control of the jet whenever he so desires???  C’mon now.  Then there’s the five portable nuclear bombs, which conveniently shrink to one when we get to the climactic ending.  I have a feeling Berry wrote himself into a corner, and had to give Cotton and cohorts some literary help.  No way would’ve they stopped all five.

    He trotted around the holocaust of flames and smoke and found the truck.  Thankfully, keys remained in the ignition.  A handheld radio lay on one of the seats.  He climbed inside and pushed the SEND button, and said, “Who’s listening?”
    “I am,” a male voice said in perfect English.
    “And you are?”
    “How about you go first?”
    “I’m the guy who just took out two men with rifles.”
    “That would make you a problem.”
    “I get that a lot.”  (pg. 36)

    Hush you mice, a cat is near us.
    He can see us, he can hear us.
    What if he is on a diet?
    Even them you should be quiet.  (pg. 164)

 Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is not putting it in fruit salad.  (pg. 300)
    The negatives mentioned earlier are enough to make this a mediocre read.  But the really aggravating thing is that Berry apparently feels compelled to give the reader a bunch of his wingnut political opinions.  And right away.

    So in the prologue, we get Ronald Reagan, whom Berry obviously adores, and the pope craftily plotting the demise of the USSR.  Reagan’s apparently psychic, for he can accurately predict exactly how the Soviets will react to his clever ploy.  He’s also glib, since he can quickly and decisively convince the head of the Catholic Church to get in cahoots with him.

    It’s all clunky, and totally unnecessary for the storyline.  Berry finds a few more spots to sing the praises of Saint Ronnie.  They were garbage passages too.  It is historically true that Reagan and the Pope did meet in a closed, 1-hour meeting early in Reagan’s presidency, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what they discussed.  But to have them spouting right-wing ideology is utter bupkis.

    I’ve been an avid reader of Steve Berry since his first book.  I’m a couple books behind right now, but found The 14th Colony as a new release at my local library, so I snapped it up.  I had heard that Berry had gone wingnut in the previous book in the series, The Patriot Threat, so I can’t say I was blindsided here.  But this by far, the poorest Steve Berry book I’ve read.

    5 Stars.  Hey, Steve.  I really don’t give a rat’s arse about your political views, and I'm sure you don't care about mine.  I read your books for the historical intrigue, and the thrills and spills.  So how's about you knock it off with the teabaggery verbiage and get back to finding kewl historical mysteries that you can cleverly work into  your patented plot twists to.  Otherwise, I’m afraid we’ll have to go our separate ways.

No comments: