While the United Kingdom celebrates the birth of a new royal heir with blue-dyed fountains and ceremonial multigun salutes, I would like to pay my tribute to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s new born baby (the Duchess gave birth to healthy ‘little Cambridge’, third in line to the throne, on Monday July 22) with the review of a ‘royal’ geopolitical thriller that revolves around the best kept secret of the British Crown.
Historical anomalies are among the most intriguing topics: popular myths and urban legends fire our imagination more than tomes and tomes of official history will ever do. I’ve always been fascinated by the argument that Elizabeth I of England might have been the real author of plays and tragedies attributed to obscure commoner (and most likely illiterate) William Shakespeare. Another interesting theory about the real identity of The Virgin Queen has recently surfaced and, although regarded as a preposterous curiosity, it could shake the British monarchy to its foundations – if proved to be true.
Multiple clues hinting at a fraud were dropped during Elizabeth Tudor’s longevous kingdom and evaluated, over the course of five centuries, by scholars, writers and even lawyers (the Bisley Boy legend, Famous Imposters by Bram Stoker, the legal action of a group of Irish Nationalist lawyers). None of those clues led to an irrefutable evidence, an evidence that may remain buried forever in a tomb at Westminster Abbey. The ‘iron fist ruler,’ Queen of England, France and Ireland, provided her kingdom with stability and wealth for an exceptionally long time (1558-1603). Spinster and childless, she didn’t possess any grace or beauty. Marriage proposals (and there were many) were all turned down, no doctor was ever allowed to examine her body when she was ill and no autopsy was authorized at her death. Bad-tempered and prone to cursing, she was depicted as commanding and authoritative as a man. And she might have been one.
The 500-year-old enigma is at the heart of The King’s Deception, a conspiracy thriller written by New York Times best-selling author and Silver Bullet Award winner Steve Berry. As a favor to his former boss at the US Department of Justice, Cotton Malone agrees to escort a teenage fugitive back to England, but the retired agent’s plan to deliver the boy to the British authorities and continue his European trip with his 15-year-old son goes awry when he is greeted in London at gunpoint by phony cops. He has just stumbled into King’s Deception, an operation run by the CIA, aiming to uncover a shocking Tudor secret and use it to force the British government into denying the release of the Lybian terrorist responsible for the 1988 Lockerbie bombing. The American government is outraged at the idea that Scottish authorities will let a mass murderer (189 American citizens and 43 British nationals were killed when the Pan Am Flight 103 crashed into Scottish territory) walk away from life imprisonment. A long-buried secret that calls into question the legitimacy of the Virgin Queen’s reign, including the conquest of Ireland, may persuade Downing Street to stop the extradition of the Lybian terrorist.
The King’s Deception swept me away with its non-stop action, flawless writing and fleshed-out characters. Cotton Malone’s multi-layered arc (ex-US Department of Justice, newly divorced and antique books amateur) unfolds throughout eight novels, yet his charismatic personality and back story are fully delineated, portraying him not only as a highly regarded intelligence agent, but also as a flawed man with a failed marriage on his belt and all the post-divorce challenges a father has to face in order to strengthen his bond with a teenage son. The introduction of two adolescent characters (Cotton’s son Gary and street urchin Ian) allows the author to enrich the dramatic texture of his action-driven plot with good insight into the emotional world of kids coming from dysfunctional families. Kudos to Berry for his ability to incorporate historical references and architectural descriptions in his narration, without breaking momentum and without disrupting the narrative flow with anti-climactic changes of pace. Keeping the chapters short and ricocheting from scene to scene more frequently as we approach the final pages of the book, Berry manages to enhance the suspense factor: intrigues, shifting loyalties, a rich cast of players, a high-octane opening chapter and a relentless escalation of pulse-pounding action played out in an effortless and adrenaline-spiking fashion. Steve Berry’s ‘deception‘ excelled where Dan Brown’s ‘inferno‘ fell short.
The Verdict: Clever, solid and extremely well-crafted. The perfect read for Dan Brown’s fans and lovers of international intrigues.
Release Date: June 11, 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Author: Steve Berry