Steve Berry’s pragmatic
hero Cotton Malone soon regrets taking on what is supposed to be a simple
mission in “The Malta Exchange,” the latest blend of history and thrills.
Malone has retired from
his job at the Justice Department so he can run a bookstore in Copenhagen.
He freelances easy assignments for extra money, and when he’s asked to
recover letters in Lake Como, Italy, that were supposedly written between
Winston Churchill and Benito Mussolini, he jumps at the chance. It’s nothing
more than meeting with someone who has the correspondence and then taking
possession of the letters. He doesn’t expect another person waiting to grab
them or the steps they will utilize to insure that he fails in his endeavor.
The hunt for the
letters that have historic significance leads to a vast conspiracy involving
the election of a new pope and the Knights of Malta, an organization that’s
been in existence for centuries. Malone’s easy payday has become a battle
for survival. Long-buried secrets are revealed and the consequences of
failure could impact history and many cultural traditions. He receives help
from agent Luke Daniels, who works for Malone’s old employer. But even help
comes with a price when Daniels’ covert operation is quickly compromised.
Trust and loyalty are
merely optional in Berry’s fun and engaging tale. Elements of the story echo
Dan Brown and Berry’s first Cotton Malone adventure, “The Templar Legacy.”
What makes his novels stand out is the level of research to make the
foundation of the story solid and then adding some mayhem and chaos. After
shaking them all together, the result is a thriller that intrigues and
provides historical context. Berry is the master scientist with a perfect
formula for the best-seller lists. (AP)