“It’s all quite remarkable, actually. Something that occurred five hundred years ago, and yet could still cause so much trouble today.”
This is the eighth book in a series. This review contains no spoilers for previous books in the series, aside from giving away the survival of the main character.
The King’s Deception, by Steve Berry
#8 in the Cotton Malone series
Ballantine Books, June 2013
409 pages (hardcover)
Cotton Malone and his fifteen-year-old son, Gary, are headed to Europe. As a favor to his old boss at the Justice Department, Malone agrees to escort a teenage fugitive back to England. After a gunpoint greeting in London in which both the fugitive and Gary disappear, Malone learns that he’s stumbled into a high-stakes diplomatic showdown — an international incident fueled by geopolitical gamesmanship and shocking Tudor secrets.
At its heart is the Libyan terrorist convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103, who is set to be released by Scottish authorities for “humanitarian reasons.” An outraged American government wants that stopped, but nothing can persuade the British to intervene.
Except, perhaps, Operation King’s Deception.
Run by the CIA, the operation aims to solve a centuries-old mystery, one that could rock Great Britain to its royal foundations.
CIA Operative Blake Antrim, in charge of King’s Deception, is hunting for the spark that could rekindle a most dangerous fire: the one thing that every Irish national has sought for centuries — a legal reason why the English must leave Northern Ireland. The answer is a long-buried secret that calls into question the legitimacy of the entire 45 year reign of Elizabeth I, the last Tudor monarch, who completed the conquest of Ireland and seized much of its land. But Antrim also has a more personal agenda, a twisted game of revenge in which Gary is a pawn. With assassins, traitors, spies, and dangerous disciples of a secret society closing in, Malone is caught in a lethal bind. To save Gary he must play one treacherous player against another — and only by uncovering the incredible truth can he hope to stop the shattering consequences of the King’s Deception.
I’ve read all of Steve Berry’s previous work, the Cotton Malone series as well as his stand-alones. I was looking forward to this new one, and it didn’t disappoint.
Well, I should clarify. In the beginning, I was a little frustrated.
My issue is that it had been so long since I’d read a Cotton Malone novel — two years since the last one was released. Past events that are referred to here left me wondering, am I not remembering details from previous books, or did those events happen off-screen (or off-the-page, I guess)? Overall, as I later realized, it was a mixture of both. I think this would be less bothersome to a new reader than it was to me; most of my frustration came, not from being unfamiliar with events briefly mentioned, but from trying to remember if I was supposed to be familiar with them.
(I also skipped the ebook lead-in this time around; I just couldn’t justify spending $2.99 on a supplemental story, especially when they’ve always been $.99 in the past. So I missed a little there too, but seemingly nothing crucial.)
At any rate, these are minor things that go away by the time the story really picks up. The historical conspiracy unfolds as we also follow the present (and very personal) conflicts, and it all comes together pretty well.
The thing that really bugged me is that the ultimate consequence (or at least one big one) of the conspiracy coming to light, revealed quite late in the story itself, is mentioned in the publisher blurb! I won’t say more than that in case you’re someone who purposely doesn’t read those… and it doesn’t really spoil anything to know those stakes going in… but still. I’m opposed to revealing anything you don’t learn fairly quickly in the story, and I thought it was a bad move on the part of the publisher (or whoever made the decision). I can’t help wondering if I’d have had a bigger reaction had that fact not been given away already.
Even so, it was a highly entertaining read. Having somewhat recently become a fan of historical fiction, I’ve read a few novels that feature this cast of historical characters. And I’ve always enjoyed thrillers that challenge what we think we know. So it was really fun for me to see those two worlds collide.
If you’re at all interested in Henry VIII or Elizabeth I, and you like conspiracies and alternate takes on history, you’ll want to read this book… whether or not you’ve read any Cotton Malone in the past. Unless you’re extremely strict when it comes to reading series in order (and I understand if you are), this story can absolutely stand apart from the rest of the series.
Does this sound like something you’d pick up? Do you enjoy when authors re-write the past, or do you think alternate history should be relegated to the speculative fiction genres?