In what’s quite possibly his best thriller to date, New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry brings back his series hero, Cotton Malone, for his biggest adventure yet in The Malta Exchange.
Two years ago, Berry released The Lost Order, one of the top thrillers of 2017. That book, especially for longtime fans of his series, presented a number of firsts. For example, we finally found out how Cotton got his name, something Berry’s readers had long speculated about. Additionally, fan-favorite character President Danny Daniels saw his time in the White House come to an end, causing fans to worry that he may not have a role moving forward. Instead, in what can only be called a genius move by the author, Berry had the former president pop up in the Senate, causing all kinds of new problems for the new president and a secret cabal hellbent on making the Speaker of the House the most powerful man in the country.
The Lost Order was a hit. And fans, especially Book Spy followers, were dying to see what would follow. Instead, Berry’s last book, The Bishop’s Pawn, took readers back in time to tell Cotton’s origin story. While the release coincided with the anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King Junior, making it the perfect time to look back at Malone’s beginning with the Magellan Billet, it meant fans had to wait even longer to see how some of the issues in The Lost Order would affect Malone’s universe moving forward. Now, that wait is finally over.
The Malta Exchange, set in the present day, takes Cotton to Lake Como, Italy, in pursuit of legendary letters between Winston Churchill and Benito Mussolini that are said to have disappeared in 1945. At the same time, the Vatican is locked down. The Pope is dead, and the conclave to select his replacement is about to begin. One favorite emerges—an evil man who uses religion as a way to hold power over others—but few know just how far he’s gone to ensure his position and how far he’s still willing to go to see the mission through, even if it means murdering those who stand in his way or threaten to expose his sinister ways. As readers might guess, Cotton, as the story progresses, finds himself in the middle of it all . . . and Berry takes his fans on a wild, rip-roaring ride that does not disappoint.
Just ahead of the publication of his latest book, Berry agreed to go on the record for our Five Questions segment. In my second interview with him, after reaching him by phone last year to discuss The Bishop’s Pawn, I asked him about everything from his writing process to what’s next for Cotton Malone going forward. Read the full Q&A below, then click here to order your copy of The Malta Exchange, in stores everywhere Tuesday, March 5, 2019.
TRBS: First of all, I just have to say how wonderful this book is. I’ve read everything you’ve ever written, and this is definitely my favorite Cotton Malone thriller yet! How did you come up with plot idea for The Malta Exchange?
Berry: I’ve done three books with religion as the ‘so what.’ The Third Secret, The Templar Legacy, and The Alexandria Link. I always had a fourth in mind, on an aspect that no one has touched as yet, and this novel allowed me to explore that. This is not, though, a-secret-that-will-destroy-the-Catholic-Church book. Quite the contrary, in fact, which makes it doubly unique. And I love Malta. It’s a wonderful place. I’ve always wanted to have a novel with that locale front and center. The Knights of Malta are also interesting and made for a great inclusion in the story.
TRBS: Because your books are so packed with historical details, you’re known to do a ton of research for each new novel. What kind of research did you have to do for The Malta Exchange before you could actually sit down to write it?
Berry: I utilized my usual 300 to 400 sources, all books, learning about the Knights of Malta, Churchill-Mussolini’s relationship, the Council of Nicaea, Constantine the Great, Malta, and Lake Como. There were three trips involved, too. One to Como, two to Malta. We were all over that island, checking out a lot of varied places. All of the locales in the book were visited.
TRBS: What is your writing process like? Do you outline, try to hit a daily word count, anything like that?
Berry: I try and outline about 50 pages ahead of my writing, but that’s tough to maintain as you always write faster than you outline. My goal is 1000 words a day. Sometimes a bit more can be accomplished, depending on the day. I do that 5 days a week, sometimes 6. I only write on the weekends if I feel like it. Otherwise, it’s Monday to Friday, without fail, for 4 to six hours a day, whether I feel like it or not.
TRBS: Because your series is so popular, it’s hard to believe that it hasn’t already been made into a movie or television show. Is there a chance readers might one day get to see Cotton Malone on the big or small screen, and do you have a preference either way? More importantly, who would be your dream casting choice to play Cotton?
Berry: There has been a lot of interest in the franchise. We get between 15 and 20 queries a year from producers. So far, there have been two options, but nothing came of either. It would be really cool to see Cotton’s world come to life. As to the medium of its presentation? Doesn’t matter to me. And who would play Cotton? That would be up to whoever bought the rights. My description of him has always been vague. Tall, broad-shouldered, sandy-blond hair, green eyes. So there’s plenty of latitude for the casting of the role.
TRBS: Lastly, what’s next for Cotton Malone, and can readers expect to see him again in 2020?
Berry: Cotton returns in Spring 2020 with an adventure in Poland. The Warsaw Protocol.
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). Steck also works full-time as a freelance editor and pens a monthly thriller column for CrimeReads. For more information, be sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook. He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.