Secret agents, spies and bad guys drop like flies in Steve Berry’s new book, “The Jefferson Key.” I quit counting dead bodies at around 10 – and skipped over a couple of particularly brutal death scenes.
“The Jefferson Key” combines a modern spy thriller with pirates, a dangerous secret society, hidden codes and a cipher wheel invented by Thomas Jefferson.
The book begins with the attempted assassination of President Andrew Jackson and quickly moves to a modern day attempt to kill President Danny Daniels’ during an unexpected trip to New York City.
In the middle of all the action is Berry’s anti-hero, Cotton Malone and his girlfriend, Cassiopeia Vitt.
They’ve been summoned to New York by an e-mail from Malone’s former boss, Stephanie Nelle, head of the top secret intelligence agency, Magellan Billet.
After the couple checks into the St. Regis hotel, they receive a key to a room at the Grand Hotel and a mysterious note from Nelle:
Please meet me at exactly 6:15 this evening.
Malone, a personal friend to Daniels, goes to the room only to find two remote-controlled Gatling-type guns aimed directly at the president’s vehicle.
With quick thinking and some serious acrobatics, Malone thwarts an attempt to kill the leader of the free world, but there’s more to this story than a couple of failed assassinations.
By page 43, mass confusion reigns as the plot comes perilously close to spinning out of control.
A man with a personal grudge against Malone is following his every move, telling agents at the scene where to find him.
Malone is trapped in Grand Central Station by armed men who think he’s behind the plot to kill the president.
A rich and powerful man who believes he is protected by the Constitution pulls strings, with deathly consequences for anyone daring to cross him or his powerful cartel.
The cartel, known as the Commonwealth was created by pirates and sanctioned by the American colonies who relied on the its ships and crews to run interference with the British and French. Through the years, the Commonwealth has grown drunk – and very, very rich – on its power.
The cartel’s current “quartermaster” plays both sides against the middle – again with fatal results.
The action also follows the confusing, fierce and territorial infighting pervasive in today’s intelligence-gathering community.
The head of one agency is being held captive by the cartel, in exchange for immunity against prosecution for manipulating foreign money markets and keeping billions of tax-free dollars in Swiss bank accounts.
Confused? So was I.
As always, Steve Berry serves up a history lesson in his work. Where he goes off course, however, is with the addition of too many back stories, twists and turns, red herrings and gory, graphic violence.
The real story, and the pleasure of a good book, are lost at sea.
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