Inernational Thriller Is a Real Page-Turner
The Venetian Betrayal
By Steve Berry
Random House, 2007, $25.95
This international political thriller takes the reader on a romp from Copenhagen to Venice to a federation of former USSR republics on the fringes of China.
It does more -- it travels from the days of Alexander the Great to a modern-day dictator similarly bent on conquering the world.
Protagonist Cotton Malone, not quite retired from a CIA-type clandestine agency, is called back into service by friends as well as the director of the National Security Agency and the president himself. Malone was last seen on a frantic search for the Alexandrian Library in Berry's previous novel, "The Alexandria Link."
Malone joins the enigmatic but wealthy Dane, Henrik Thorvaldsen, fast-moving agents Cassiopeia Vitt and Stephanie Nelle, all friends, in a murky quest for historic coins, a cure for HIV-AIDS and the tomb of Alexander. Well, that's just a few of their goals. Remember that Malone is now the owner and operator of a Copenhagen shop specializing in ancient books.
They encounter a timeless explosive known as Greek fire, which spreads gaseous flames through the use of turtle-type robots. Greek fire, it seems, is ancient, probably dating to the days of Alexander.
It's not the only deadly force exhibited here. In addition to the traditional firearms are bows and arrows and a classic method of torture and execution -- the act of tying a victim to two supple trees, that, when unleashed, tear the victim into pieces.
Enter Irina Zovastina, the charismatic and brutal leader of the Central Asian Federation, who is plotting to collect biological weapons to propel her toward conquest of the Middle East, then on to the rest of the world. To accomplish this takeover, she needs the remedy for the diseases to be spread around the world. After all, she wants to keep a few people to operate her worldwide kingdom.
If this all sounds improbable, it is, almost at comic book proportions. Berry writes in a choppy back and forth style that leaps too quickly from scene to scene, moving from a few pages in the canals of Venice to a palace in Samarkand, then a few paragraphs into China or Copenhagen and back to Venice.
The characters descend into a sacred sarcophagus searching for the body of Alexander, or perhaps the body of St. Mark, for it is rumored that their bodies were interchanged early in the Common Era. There are frantic pursuits, much bloodshed and hints of romance to come.
Although at times it's hard to take this novel of greed and treachery seriously, it does make good reading and is a real page-turner.
Berry's research is novel and thorough, and he should be credited for imagination and verve. He includes a set of writer's notes that differentiate between truth and fiction and help to place the happenings of the plot into context.
Steve Berry is an attorney and world traveler whose books have been translated into 38 languages and sold in 43 countries. Previous volumes have consistently made it onto The New York Times' Bestseller List.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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