Series: Cotton Malone #3
Published by Random House LLC on 2008-11
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BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from Steve Berry's The Columbus Affair and a Cotton Malone dossier. In 323 B.C.E, having conquered Persia, Alexander the Great set his sights on Arabia, then suddenly succumbed to a strange fever. Locating his final resting place-unknown to this day-remains a tantalizing goal for both archaeologists and treasure hunters. Now the quest for this coveted prize is about to heat up. And Cotton Malone-former U.S. Justice Department agent turned rare-book dealer-will be drawn into an intense geopolitical chess game. After narrowly escaping incineration in a devastating fire that consumes a Danish museum, Cotton learns from his friend, the beguiling adventurer Cassiopeia Vitt, that the blaze was neither an accident nor an isolated incident. As part of campaign of arson intended to mask a far more diabolical design, buildings across Europe are being devoured by infernos of unnatural strength. And from the ashes of the U.S.S.R., a new nation has arisen: Former Soviet republics have consolidated into the Central Asian Federation. At its helm is Supreme Minister Irina Zovastina, a cunning despot with a talent for politics, a taste for blood sport, and the single-minded desire to surpass Alexander the Great as history's ultimate conqueror. Backed by a secret cabal of powerbrokers, the Federation has amassed a harrowing arsenal of biological weapons. Equipped with the hellish power to decimate other nations at will, only one thing keeps Zovastina from setting in motion her death march of domination: a miraculous healing serum, kept secret by an ancient puzzle and buried with the mummified remains of Alexander the Great-in a tomb lost to the ages for more than 1,500 years. Together, Cotton and Cassiopeia must outrun and outthink the forces allied against them. Their perilous quest will take them to the shores of Denmark, deep into the venerated monuments of Venice, and finally high inside the desolate Pamir mountains of Central Asia to unravel a riddle whose solution could destroy or save millions of people-depending on who finds the lost tomb first.
I have a love/hate relationship with Steve Berry. As you can tell from my previous reviews of Berry’s work, sometimes I love his stories and sometimes I don’t. In fact, I was so ambivalent about The Alexandria Link that I wasn’t sure I’d pick up the next book in the Cotton Malone series. But here’s the thing about me: I always finish a series. So when I found ‘The Venetian Betrayal’ at the library, I knew I had to get it. What’s the verdict? It’s his best book to date. I wasn’t hooked right away but after about 25%, I found myself needing to know what happened (in an I’m going to skip folding laundry because I need to read kind of way).
With that being said, ‘The Venetian Betrayal’ did have its problems. I found myself wondering why The Venetian League was mentioned in the book at all considering that they didn’t really have a large role in the outcome of the plot. Yes, the two villains were members of The Venetian League but I’m pretty sure that detail could have been omitted entirely without anyone noticing. The thing about Berry is that he wants us to know how much knowledge he has so he sometimes includes details that aren’t always necessary to the plot. Sometimes I think it’s just for show. Other times I think that his editor missed something or that he fought hard to keep The Venetian League in the book and didn’t see it through as well as he should have.
But, the plot itself was definitely above average. With The Templar Legacy, I thought that Berry was just a passenger on the Dan Brown train. With ‘The Venetian Betrayal,’ Berry just established himself as a suspense thriller author in his own right. I think what sets this novel apart from the others is that he mixes historical myth/legend with real problems and possible political futures. The Central Asian Federation was conceived brilliantly and feels like a real political possibility for the western Asian nations like Kazakhstan. Inserting a possible cure for AIDS within the Alexander the Great historical legend gave the plot a boost from being a novel about just another conspiracy theory to a novel that uses legends to talk about more significant problems plaguing the world. It’s easier for me to conceive a plot about a magical draught that cures the world’s incurable disease in an attempt to talk about world politics than it is for me to conceive that Jesus had children ala Dan Brown.
As always, the characters were spot on. We learn more about them than ever before and they’re really starting to feel like real people. I’m starting to wish for a Stephanie/Henrik relationship. I think I saw some evidence that pointed towards it. We’ll see what happens with the next book.
Overall, this books was better than his others. I’m really starting to get into the Cotton Malone series and can’t wait to pick up ‘The Charlemagne Pursuit.’
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