Recently I was invited to a birthday party for a male friend, and I was stumped by the thought of a suitable gift. It’s so hard to buy gifts for guys. I’ve known Ed for years (he’s my friend Jo Anne’s brother), but that doesn’t mean I knew what to buy for him. I know he likes to read, and Jo Anne told me he likes political thrillers. Aha, I thought, after scratching my head and staring at my bookshelves (the ones devoted to mysteries and mainstream fiction) for a while: Steve Berry. Ed’s wife, Anne, couldn’t tell me for sure if Ed had read Berry, but when I told her that Berry’s tales generally involve an historical mystery and/or treasure hunt with present day political consequences, she thought that was just what he’d like. So I headed over to Half Price Books one day (more book for your buck, not to mention the availability of good hard cover editions of backlist books) and found three for Ed: The Third Secret, The Templar Legacy, and The Alexandria Link. The first is a stand-alone thriller; the others are the first and second in Berry’s series about Cotton Malone, former government agent trying, not all that successfully, to retire to life as an antiquarian book dealer in Copenhagen. (I’ve since heard through the grapevine that Ed is pleased with my choice.)
I started reading Berry’s novels way back when the first one, The Amber Room, came out in 2003. The story of the legendary Amber Room, said to have been stolen in its entirety from Russia by the Nazis, was enough to tempt me into a genre I didn’t often read. Berry’s second novel, The Romanov Prophecy, touched on a bit of history I’d always found fascinating. I was hooked. (Odd trick of memory here: I was sure I had shared these books with my late husband, Jack. But Jack died in 2002, before The Amber Room was published. I suppose I just knew at the time that I wished I could share it with him—it’s a novel he would have loved.)
Shopping for Ed reminded me that I still had three unread Berry novels on my shelf—if you’ve visited here before you probably know I buy books a lot faster than I can possibly read them. So the other day I picked up the next one in line, The Jefferson Key, and dove in. It definitely lived up to the description I’d given Ed: a secret cypher, developed by Thomas Jefferson and used by Andrew Jackson to conceal the whereabouts of papers essential to a conspiracy of modern-day hereditary privateers, an attempted assassination, and the most infuriating villain I’ve run across in some time. I stayed up until one o’clock in the morning to finish it.
I have two more Berry novels on my shelf, The Columbus Affair (a stand-alone), and The King’s Deception (Cotton Malone), and Berry has a new one out just last month, another Cotton Malone called The Lincoln Myth (the last time I looked at the New York Times bestseller list, there it was). I’ll wait a bit before I get to that one, though: Berry’s novels are so packed with action and suspense and move at such a break-neck pace that I can’t read them back to back. But they’ll stay on my keeper shelf and one day I’ll read them all again.
History geeks like me will also enjoy the Writer’s Note at the end of each book, in which Berry lays out the historical basis of his stories and explains what he added. Information on all of Berry’s books is available on his web site at steveberry.org.