The Kaiser’s Web (Cotton Malone #16), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Steve Berry ushers Cotton Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt into the sixteenth novel of the series, which is full of intrigue, political banter, and historical ‘what if’ moments in the middle of an important election. The future of Germany is at stake with two contenders for the chancellorship and a country on the verge of change. As Malone and Vitt travel across three continents, they uncover the truth behind a mystery that is seventy-five years in the making. A chilling glance into what might have happened in a Berlin bunker and the web of deceit spun in its aftermath. Recommended to those who love Berry’s work, as well as the reader who enjoys a little historical pondering in their thrillers.

Working off the books, former US President Danny Daniels arrives in Germany with a portfolio of information to deliver to an old friend. At stake is the winner of Germany’s most coveted political position, the chancellorship. Its current holder seeks to continue use her control of the political system, but a challenger holds the reins of the nationalistic right and is supported by a base who find solace in hate and racial purity.

Within the portfolio is the truth behind the events of April 30, 1945, when Hitler and his new wife, Eva Braun, apparently took their lives rather than see the fall of Germany. However, while the Russians claim to have found Hitler’s body and buried it, questions remain about Braun. Cotton Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt are called in to poke around, which will include extensive research in Chile. While their lives will be put in danger, as they unravel the complexities of the post-war fates of many Germans, neither is willing to dismiss the possible truths that have been diluted by war-time histories with obvious biases.

Might Evan Braun have escaped with one of Hitler’s confidants? Could their connection have led to a romantic connection that bore a child, one who was whisked away and adopted by another family? It will take more than a crafty marksman to deter Malone and Vitt, as they reveal all and make their way to South Africa to learn just how complex this secret, dubbed the Kaiser’s Web, proves to be.

With the fate of Germany in the balance, secrets will come to light, but will it all be in time to let the country know before a chancellor is picked? Might the end result leave Germany back in the hands of the national socialists, no longer needing a putsch and beer hall to wreak havoc on the strongest economy in Europe? Malone cannot sit idly by, but even he is not sure which side is favoured in this web of lies and deception.

Steve Berry has never shied away from controversial subjects, all while injecting the ‘what if’ question into his narrative. Spinning truths he has uncovered with just the right flavouring of fiction, Berry develops a story that series fans are sure to love, with a backdrop of far-right politics that is sure to resonate in an era when elected leaders turn into tyrants drunk on power.

Cotton Malone has always been a strong, if not entirely loveable, character in these books. Painted as a former Justice Department operative who sought solitude with an antique bookstore in Denmark, Malone has always kept one foot in the realm of active duty. This story pushes him not to explore more of his backstory, but to help clarify a major issue, all while seeking to stay alive for one more day. There is not the traditional development that a series might bring to a character, but more a constant hunger for truth, even when it is buried beneath the rubble of time and deception.

Berry uses some returning characters to add flavouring to his series, but also uses a handful of key characters who are essential to the plot at hand. He mixes history and present-day when presenting those who serve as effective vessels in portraying the many layers of his narrative and there is never a dull moment as the reader learns more about the people on the page and the history behind them.

Blurring the lines between fact and fiction is what Berry does best, though he is always keen to shine the light on things in his author’s note. Berry touches on some relevant issues with the rise of the neo-Nazi movement, as well as nationalism in general, throughout this piece. The narrative is strong and keeps building throughout, while the characters embody the tension that comes from truths being unearthed. The pace of the plot never slows and the twists come throughout the story. Working through a strong storyline, the piece keeps the reader enthralled as they ask themselves what might really have happened as the Russians advanced on a crippled Berlin back in 1945. I know I was keen to see what Berry had to say in his end of story note, as I am sure many others will be who devour this book!

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another winner. I love how you use the present day to make the past come to light, leaving many to question what they really know and where they may have been blindly led.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Warsaw Protocol (Cotton Malone #15), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I rushed to begin Steve Berry’s latest Cotton Malone thriller, sure to be filled with historical facts and a great deal of adventure. Berry did not disappoint, mixing some current geo-politics with Poland’s communist era, finding the perfect balance throughout. While Cotton Malone is in Belgium to acquire some rare books, he witnesses the theft of an ancient Christian relic. Unable to stop the thieves, he is detained by the local authorities and questioned. When Malone’s former boss—Stephanie Nelle—come upon him by happenstance, he is intrigued by what brings her to Europe. When Nelle introduces Malone to a member of the new US Administration, they butt heads from the start. Malone is told of a secret auction that is being held to release a cache of highly troubling information about the current Polish President. Entry for the auction comes in the form of one of the central Christian relics, one of which Malone saw lifted earlier. While Malone is not interested in the mission, or helping anyone within the new Administration, his mind changes when he encounters an old friend with whom he had strong ties. Malone agrees to help with the heist to help the Americans gain entry into this auction, but when he meets Janusz Czajkowski, Malone discovers the man is simply trying to protect his country’s sovereignty. At a time when Poland was the plaything of the Soviets, its autonomy was always threatened. Even when the Iron Curtain came down, Poland’s location in Europe made it a pawn in the American war to keep its enemies at bay. After the auction goes sideways, Malone must determine his next move, particularly when the US President tries to strong-arm his own agenda, clueless to international diplomacy. With the blackmail documents hidden somewhere in rural Poland, Malone soon learns about Czajkowski’s past and the Warsaw Protocol, a means of building up the Polish Resistance. Blood will be shed and the reader will learn much about the area, as Berry spins a tale that offers twists at every page turn. Recommended to those who have long enjoyed the Cotton Malone series, as well as the reader who enjoys some spin on some of the current political situation the world over.

I always enjoy when a new Steve Berry novel hits my radar, as I can be assured of a wonderful story and a great deal of history, some of which end up being well-padded fiction. Turning things to Poland, Berry is able to explore this key country in the Soviet Empire and how its independence came at a great cost. Cotton Malone is back for his fifteenth adventure, pushing him to his limits. While Malone is always on his toes in this piece, the reader learns much about some of his past, receiving fragments of a time when he was in the Navy and some of the people who crossed his path. Fully out of the secret Magellan Billet, Malone does not have any protection of the current US Administration, though he makes it clear that he cannot stand POTUS or those who choose to be his sycophants. Others appear throughout and push the narrative forward, while complementing Malone’s presence at every turn. The reader is able to learn much about Poland through certain key characters, as is common with Berry’s novels. The story worked well for me, educating me about a great deal of things, particularly Poland’s emergence from behind the Iron Curtain, as well as how America has continued to use it as a foothold in the region. Berry mixes some of the long-standing history of the country with new threads that play nicely into the modern geo-political situation. With a book comprised primary with short chapters, the reader is able to push through this piece with little issue, finding themselves in the middle of a highly exciting story. I can only hope that Malone and those closest to him will appear again soon in another exciting adventure.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another captivating piece. I always enjoy the mix of fact and fiction you present to the reader.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Malta Exchange (Cotton Malone #14), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Steve Berry returns with another Cotton Malone thriller, sure to impress series fans that those readers who love peeling back some of the mysteries history has left unsolved. Cotton Malone arrives on Malta with a mission to intercept a collection of letters that could ruin Britain if they see the light of day. These letters were written between Winston Churchill and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during the Second World War, pertaining specifically to the possession of Malta. While this mission does not seem too difficult, there is more to the story than meets the eye, particularly as it relates to Malta. Long guarded by a security force, the Knights of Malta, the country has been the gem sought by many autocratic leaders, including both Mussolini and Napoleon Bonaparte. However, it is not simply the land they seek, but a secret that could change the face of world domination. This secret, Nostra Trifectà, holds information that many within the Vatican have long hoped would never be found, as its contents could change the Church forever. Vatican City is abuzz, with the death of the recent pope and a conclave about to begin. Over one hundred cardinals are making their way to cast ballots to elect a new leader for the world’s Catholics, but there is a twist. One contender seeks to use a great amount of information he has amassed to turn the tides in his favour, while using the secret enforcement arm of the Vatican to keep all hurdles out of his way. While Malone discovers what is going on, he is joined by others from his former employer, the Magellan Billet, to stop this and finally uncover the Nostra Trifectà. It will take more than brains and a little brawn to discover the secrets hidden in Malta and bring them to Vatican City before the doors of the Sistine Chapel are closed for the commencement of the Papal Conclave. Will this be one adventure through history’s lesser-known mysteries that even Cotton Malone will not solve? A highly captivating story that will hold the reader’s attention until the final pages, as they seek to decipher fact from fiction. Recommended for those who enjoy Steve Berry’s work, as well as the reader who finds solace in historical mysteries where much of the accepted truths are put to the test.

There’s nothing like a Steve Berry novel to get the brain working. He is able to pull on the lesser-known parts of major historical events, pulling the reader into the middle of an adventure, where there is much to learn. Berry’s protagonist, Cotton Malone, has been a wonderful staple throughout the series, moving from an active role as a Magellan Billet agent to a quiet bookseller with a passion for rare documents. While Berry does not offer a great deal of back story or development, Malone is effective in this book by showing his attention to detail when it comes to ciphers and hidden codes. Malone is able to lead his group through mysteries while always flexing his muscles when needed. Berry’s use of a number of secondary characters, both returning from the series and unique to this book, to help move things along, particular as it relates to those who serve as antagonists throughout. The story is interesting on multiple levels, as it tackles some of the events surrounding Mussolini’s fall from grace, the history of the island of Malta, as well as papal conclaves and the role the Catholic Church has long played in the world. Juggling these plots, Berry is able to advance many interesting historical possibilities, as well as injecting some history that may not be readily known to the reader. As with all of his novels, Berry embeds both fact and fiction within the narrative, leaving the reader to decide what to believe, at least until Berry sets the record straight at the end of the story. Tackling the power of the Catholic Church and how a collection of documents, Nostra Trifectà, could derail much of what is known or expected, as well as the power that the pope and his entourage. Set against the mysterious island of Malta, I was able to enjoy the second book in as many months on this island that lays between Italy and the African continent. I am eager to see what else Berry has in store for Malone and the other members of the Magellan Billet in the coming months. It’s always nice to see something that bears Steve Berry’s name, as the reader is guaranteed a jam-packed read.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another winner. I learn so much with you at the helm and your ability to tell stories is second to none.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Bishop’s Pawn (Cotton Malone #13), by Steve Berry

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry, Minotaur Books and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Steve Berry is back to provide readers with another instalment of the Cotton Malone series. In this piece, things go back to the beginning, before Magellan Billet, when Malone was still a lieutenant in the Navy and working for the JAG. After a failed attempt to help a friend finds Malone tossed in a Florida jail, he’s approached by one Stephanie Nelle from the Justice Department. She can make the arrest and any charges disappear if he will help her with a secretive and very important mission. He must retrieve a rare gold coin and ensure it is returned to her as soon as possible. Having nothing to lose, Malone ambles down to the waterfront, where he finds the item, alongside a number of documents that appear to be highly classified. Etched with ‘Bishop’s Pawn’ on the cover, Malone is curious and soon discovers that these files are highly sought, when an agent of the Cuban Secret Police comes to fetch them in a less than courteous manner. From that point, Malone learns that there are many seeking the documents, including the FBI, who will stop at nothing to ensure they are not seen by anyone else. Malone soon realises that he’s stumbled into the middle of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination conspiracy and that these documents may reveal a narrative no one expected. Could there be more to the assassination than first thought? Might this ‘Pawn’ document prove that J. Edgar Hoover was behind the entire operation to exterminate King while the race riots and civil rights movement was heating up? As Malone dodges blood-thirsty people on both sides of the equation, he must decide if working for Justice and retuning the documents to Stephanie Nelle is the right move, or whether burying the narrative from the public is the best choice of all. Another brilliant piece by Berry, who digs up loose threads in history and weaves his own narrative in a magical way. A wonderful addition to the Cotton Malone series, it will keep series fans quite content. Those new to Berry and the series need not shy away, as it builds the foundation of a wonderful set of novels and may whet the appetite of those looking to explore this phenomenal collection.

I have read and enjoyed Berry’s work for as long as I can remember, having enveloped myself in the nuances of the Cotton Malone series and the tweaks to history for the entire journey. What sets Berry apart is that his writing and storytelling pits fact against fiction in such a way that it is sometimes indiscernible to the reader, forcing them to refer to the ever-present piece at the end it find out what was based in reality and where Berry sought to bridge things with some of his own creative writing. With this being the dawn of Malone’s appearance with Justice, there are none of the other characters that series fans know so well, allowing a stronger focus on the protagonist. Malone is given some brief backstory at the beginning and it builds throughout. His reckless ways are still fairly new, though his intuition is strong and the reader can see some of the early crumbs of what will become his unique personality in the novels to come. Malone is determined to do what he feels is right, though admits that he does try to follow orders, when they suit him. The narrative hints repeatedly at the issues in his marriage, something that develops in the series. This introduction to such a wonderful character paves the way for some wonderful future revelations by the reader, should they take the time to enjoy the entire collection of novels. Some of the other characters work well to build the dramatic effect within the story, serving as high-ranking members of the government or agencies central to the King assassination at the time. Shedding light on those tumultuous times, Berry utilises these people to expound on an America at the crossroads of internal disaster and race disintegration, with the apparent stop-gap measure before them. Turning to the story itself, Berry imbeds so many interesting pieces as they relate to the King assassination, as well as providing the reader with some interesting insight into what might have happened. While the entire event was seemingly an open and shut case, there were many whispers over the past fifty years that receive their due mention in the narrative. At a time when race relations are again teetering, Berry’s novel opens up the discussion and explores how those days in the 1960s changed the way the world looked at civil rights in America. And with the fiftieth anniversary of the King assassination on the horizon, Berry fuels the fires of discussion and analysis once again. Written from a first-person narrative, Malone’s story receives a much more personal touch, allowing Berry to introduce the man who has been so important over the years. The narrative, mixed with documents and references to flashback moments in King’s life, proves a rich story on which to build this modern piece. Additionally, placing the story in and around 2000 permits both Berry and the reader to look both back and ahead, straddling history and using that unique perspective of hindsight and forethought. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this piece and can only hope that others will also find something worthwhile.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what you have in mind as you keep Cotton interesting and ever-evolving, even in his rookie days.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons