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

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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