vendredi 9 mai 2014

The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry

Abraham Lincoln kept his temper under control, but the woman standing across from him was taxing his patience.

When a plot to secede from the Union drags Cotton Malone's on-again, off-again lover Vitt Cassiopeia into danger, Malone agrees to once again assist his former Magellan Billet boss. Paired up with a young agent with secrets of his own, Malone's investigation leads him into conflict with the Church of Latter-Day Saints and a centuries old secret hidden within the US Constitution. As the bodies begin to pile up and more revelations are made, Malone comes to realise that the entire conspiracy revolves around the truth behind one of the United States' most beloved presidents...

The Lincoln Myth is the ninth book in the Cotton Malone series, which follows the eponymous hero through a number of historically orientated thrillers, pitting him against larger than life villains and putting him on the track of some of history's most enduring secrets. Up til now, Malone has investigated the Templars, Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Napoleon Bonaparte and Queen Elizabeth I. All of the books are great fun, with slightly less of the over the top vibe that characterise Dan Brown, and with more of a historical bent. Malone is an interesting character, one with scars and hidden depths that Steve Berry continues to plumb even nine books in. As such, any new Cotton Malone book is a shoe-in for my To Read List and this year I was lucky enough to get an advance look at the latest thanks to Netgalley.

Nine books in it is difficult to see how Berry can still surprise, but he does an admirable job here by throwing a wrench in the growing relationship between Malone and Vittoria Cassiopeia, his paramour for the past few books, and putting them on opposing sides of the growing conflict. Berry also manages to layer an interesting commentary on current events throughout the book, forcing his characters to face the growing dissatisfaction in the United States and the ever-present threat of secession.

The plot itself revolves around two main arcs - on one side, a historical maguffin in the form of a secret adendum to the Constitution that allows for the legal right to secede from the union, and on the other a plot within the Church of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as Mormons, to use said adendum to secede from the United States and build their own Eldorado. Though obviously far fetched, there are some startling arguments for both of these arcs that make the book seem less out there than it otherwise might. Laying aside the Mormon aspect, it is certainly true that there are some in the current US who would like nothing better than to force government out of their business and see each state make its own decisions. And the adendum to the Constitution, while an invention of Berry, seems like something that could easily have happened when one takes into account the historical context of the times in which the Founding Fathers wrote it.

As usual, Berry does a great job of balancing the action portions of the thriller with the necessary information that he must impart. Anyone who writes this kind of book needs to be a master at feeding the reader information at the right pace - too fast and it becomes nothing more than an info-dump, too slow and you risk alienating the reader who feels like the author is holding back. Berry has had a lot of practice and he does it with a steady hand. The revelations come just when they need to and each character is forced to make choices and face consequences for gaining the information they want.

The relationships take centre stage in this book - not only the rocky romance between Vitt and Malone, but also the relationship between Malone boss, Stephanie Nell, and Berry's president, Daniels. Daniels has been a growing presence in recent books, and Berry does a good job of showing how the pressures and weight of the presidency have come to drag on him. He is coming towards the end of his final term in this book and it is clear that his actions in The Lincoln Myth are a direct result of him worrying about the inevitable question of 'legacy'. His relationship with Nelle is also advanced, and we see another side of him as he handles a difficult reunion with his nephew, the young agent mentioned in the summary above.

The ending does not hold many surprises for anyone who has read any other books in this series (or in any other similar one), but Berry does a fine job of showing consequences. We get the feeling going forward that Malone and Vitt's ongoing relationship will have been irrevocably changed by what happens here and that may have a domino effect on his willingness to get involved in the future. Like Jack Bauer, soon to enjoy his own revival, though, we can be sure that Malone's adventures will not end here.

The Lincoln Myth is a historical thriller done right. While not holding many surprises, it does a great job of combining historical speculation with a taut action thriller, while not flinching from the relationships and characters that make the whole thing hold together. A true page-turner and a great book for the beach, it shows that Berry is still a master at this form and that there are still many ways in which he can make the Cotton Malone series work. I gave it 4 crazy angel-seeing killers out of 5.

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