Five stars (of five)
Berry returns with another explosive novel in the Cotton Malone series. Full of interest and intrigue, it will keep the reader pondering key questions well after closing the book’s cover. During their only face-to-face meeting on December 31, 1936, Andrew Mellon and FDR discussed their growing animosity towards one another. As the conversation disintegrated, Mellon shared that he possessed a few shocking secrets that might stun Roosevelt and cause havoc to the Republic. Mellon left the President with these secrets and a piece of paper covered in numbers. Moving into the present day, Cotton Malone is back, temporarily with the Magellan Billet, tasked with following a US Treasury official on a cruise through Europe. The official is apparently in possession with illegal copies of memoranda that relate to the 16th Amendment to the US Constitution, documents that are of great interest to Treasury and could pose many concerns if they fell into the wrong hands. Also aboard the cruise is a member of North Korea’s ruling Kim family, who have held an iron fist over all inhabitants since the country’s creation. Kim Yong Jin has been disinherited from the line of succession, but wishes to embarrass his family and destroy America all at once, which can easily be done if he comes into possession of these secret documents. While Malone tries to save the documents from falling into the hands of the North Koreans, members of the Magellan Billet investigate allegations related to the 16th Amendment stateside, uncovering some less than kosher facts about Philander Knox, Secretary of State in 1913 and the man who formally declared the 16th Amendment ratified. And what of the Mellon secrets? It all ties together in the larger picture, as Berry opens many lines of inquiry. The book is so detailed and the storylines so intricate that it is best left to reading or listening to garner the full effect.
The central tenet of the book is quite captivating on its own: did Philander Knox falsely report that the ratification threshold for the 16th Amendment was met? If so, how did he do this and what is the fallout to this act? Berry builds on this, exemplifying the many ways in which the 16th Amendment is key to the United States’ stability, perhaps more so than the First, Second, or even Fifth. Berry takes this premise and creates a powerful web of plot lines that branch out and build independently, but who tie in nicely together at the end. The research in the book is extensive and the means by which it is presented forces the reader to open up to the possibility of a great conspiracy. With numerous characters from history making appearances, the story holds interest for historical fiction buffs and Malone thrill seekers alike. It also allows Berry to focus on some of the less glamorous aspects of the world, specifically North Korean prison camps and the treatment by the leadership of the citizenry. This is not the first author who has used North Korea as an important sub-plot in a novel recently, nor will it be the last. However, it does make some of the hoopla found within the Berry novel pale in comparison to the plight being suffered with no end in sight.
I wanted to take a brief moment to add a tidbit to the review. I took a gamble and listened to the “writer’s cut’ version of the audiobook, which was an added treat for an audio addict like myself. Where fans of Berry’s books are used to his closing chapter, when truth and fiction are revealed, in the writer’s cut Berry narrated some facts and tidbits at the end of a number of the chapter; little crumbs that the reader may not otherwise know, which brings the story to life on yet another level. Berry’s narrative, offset by Scott Brick’s wonderful reading, made this book even more of a treat.
Kudos, Mr Berry for this wonderful novel, which made me think even more, as I have recently been reading William Martin’s Peter Fallon novels.