The Lost Order (Cotton Malone # 12), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

Returning with another Cotton Malone thriller, Steve Berry never ceases to impress, embedding fact and fiction throughout a fast-paced narrative. Malone finds himself out in rural Arkansas on a mission, tracking down a small collection of gold. Hired and sent by someone other than the president, Malone’s still loosely working for the Magellan Billet, a covert part of the Justice Department. While cracking a code engraved on one of the majestic trees, he is attacked and questioned by a gentleman who calls himself the Sentinel, part of the long thought defunct Knights of the Golden Circle. Malone soon learns that the Knights trace their roots to the Confederacy and are charged with protecting small caches of gold and stones, which lead to a larger treasure, scattered across the South. Back in Washington, the Billet’s overseer, Stephanie Nelle, is meeting with a senior official with the Smithsonian Institution, only to be shot and left for dead. There appears to be a connection to the Knights and the Smithsonian, though it is not entire clear at the time. Former US President Danny Daniels is attending the funeral of a lifelong friend and senator, where he discovers that the widow and the Speaker of the House of Representatives might have been involved in some nefarious dealings, yet another branch of the Knights’ larger plans. Daniels accepts a position that will permit him some inside information at the congressional level, though he must not tip his hand too soon. While Malone seeks to better understand the workings of the Knights of the Golden Circle, he learns that a recent schism may have led to the recent attacks on Nelle and the kidnapping of Billet member (and Malone’s love interest) Cassiopeia Vitt. It would appear that someone wants the treasure to push forward a constitutional convention, one that could change the face of the United States while others within the group are fine keeping the riches hidden until the time is more propitious . While Cotton is seeking to quell the rogue branch of the Knights, Danny Daniels must rest the power held by the Speaker before major (though entirely legal) power changes to vest all formal congressional powers on the lower house, thereby nullifying the Senate’s role in the legislative branch of the government. A killer is loose, lives hang in the balance, and Cotton Malone may be the only person who can intercept those bent on causing chaos, all while learning that one of his ancestors may have played a central role in the Knights. Berry weaves a wonderful story together and will not let up until the reader is fully engrossed. Perfect for fans of the Cotton Malone series as well as those who love a good mystery seeped in historical significance.

As with many Berry novels, there is nothing off limits in the narrative. Shifting through time and working with little-known facts, Berry creates a story that keeps the reader wondering. The Magellan Billet has seen its usefulness wax and wane throughout the series, though Cotton Malone has never become tiresome. Working through the Civil War era and the spy rings that accompanied it, Berry resurrects some ideas tied to the Confederate cause as well as diving headlong into a better understanding of the Smithsonian, which is a vast array of museums and facilities that seek to educate and impress. Berry sifts throughout the historical record to teach the reader while proving to be adept at entertainment. Longtime series readers will have grown fond of certain characters and it is noteworthy that Berry has found a way to keep them present and relevant, as well as finally (!!) revealing the ‘long story’ behind Malone’s nickname. While there is little time to rest throughout the tale, Berry takes the time to point out facts and fallacies, especially to those readers who choose the writer’s cut of the audiobook. Certainly an advantage over the always anticipated Writer’s Notes that Berry includes in his novels. A wonderful addition that enriches little known pieces of US History and political developments that could be useful today.

Kudos, Mr. Berry for another wonderful book. I love how you are able to mix history, politics, and thrilling chases all into one, while keeping a realistic balance. I look forward to all you have in the works, as I praise your published books to all those who will listen.