The 14th Colony (Cotton Malone #11), by Steve Berry

Nine stars

Berry offers readers another wonderfully crafted piece of fiction, peppered with factual information, sure to impress long-time fans and newbies alike. Imagine the Vatican and US were working together to bring down the U.S.S.R. Such is the premise of this latest Cotton Malone adventure. In June 1982, US President Ronald Reagan met in private with Pope John Paul II. This unprecedented meeting led to a number of secret discussions and negotiations to bring down the powerful Soviet empire from two fronts. Their mission proved successful in 1989, leaving a power void in the world and disaster for Russia, who had not seen anything close to democracy for over 800 years. In the present day, Cotton Malone is again on contract with the Magellan Billet, which is set to be defunct, this time on a reconnaissance mission in Siberia. Malone’s plane is shot down and he is left as a temporary captive. While in custody, he learns scraps of a plan to punish America for destroying the USSR, though he cannot decipher what’s to come. Armed with phrases “Zero Amendment” and “Fool’s Mate”, Malone escapes and is rescued by a former flame, Cassiopeia Vitt. They follow their mark across to Canada and into the United States, where Washington is preparing for the Presidential Inauguration. In a separate plot-line, Stephanie Nelle and one of her Billet agents learn about the Society of Cincinnati, a secret collection of individuals that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Within some of their journals is a collection of plans related to something called The 14th Colony. Further exploration determines that a KGB operative may have seen these plans with an interest in the nuances found therein. With time running out before the change of power, Malone uncovers that the inauguration might be the key to the Soviet retaliation and complete chaos for America, which has political, social, and constitutional ramifications on par with the end of the Cold War. Time is of the essence, though no one can be sure if this spells the end of everything that Berry has built up over the past ten novels. In true Berry form, the reader is sucked in and forced to wonder where fact ends and fiction begins in this explosive thriller.

Steve Berry has a knack for overlaying obscure meetings or documents with a powerful plot that seeks to understand said event. Placing Cotton Malone and the larger Magellan Billet in the middle of the story, the reader can relate to a cast of characters whose backstories continue to grow as the series continues. It is only when the reader reaches the end of the novel that Berry’s famed “author’s note” helps to sift through the truth from that which he has spun to fuel the story. This novel’s strength lies in the duel plots and historical events, the Zero Amendment and the 14th Colony. Seeped in history and potential chaos, Berry uses them to keep the story fresh, even as the Danny Daniels era as president comes to an end. One can only hope that Berry has new twists to keep Malone in the story and these constitutional conundrums at the heart of the series. Crafted with precision, adventure, and always propelling the characters forward, Berry shows that he is a master at fiction writing, amassing new fans with each new novel.

Kudos, Mr. Berry for another wonderful story. I anticipate your annual additions to the Cotton Malone series and all the intricacies you have to offer.