When it comes to historical fiction, nobody is better than Steve Berry – who once again shows why he’s one of the best in the thriller genre with his latest Cotton Malone thriller, The 14th Colony.
Steve Berry’s books read like the love child of a National Treasure movie and a Brad Thor novel. This time around, you could even throw in a little Mission Impossible or 24.
Usually I recommend Berry’s work to history nuts, but he’s incorporated enough espionage and spy-type elements into The 14th Colony that I’m confident readers of that genre will enjoy this book as well. This is the eleventh book to feature Cotton Malone, but each novel is written somewhat as a standalone book, allowing readers to pick them up in any order and dive in.
I started reading this along with four other books I’ll be reviewing, hoping one of them would suck me in and force me to choose it over the others – this one did. I was hooked early, and devoured it within days.
The book opens with a great scene taking place in 1982 between President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, who met secretly and conspired to end socialism. From there, readers are reintroduced to Cotton Malone, an operative for the Justice Department, who is flying to Russia at the orders of his boss, Stephanie Nelle.
President Daniels is now a lame-duck commander-in-chief, which means the Justice Department’s top secret intelligence gathering group, Magellan Billet (which Malone works for), is living out its last days. But before they close up shop for good, there’s still at least one pressing issue at hand.
Rumors surfaced about suitcase nukes that were hidden by KGB officers who intended to keep them handy after the secret meeting in Vatican City between the Pope and President Reagan back in 1982. What’s worse, ex-KGB agent Aleksandr Zorin has access to the small nuclear devices, and he plans to use them.
Zorin also has a sleeper cell, one that might already be in the United States. Cotton soon uncovers a plot that doesn’t just target America, it targets a certain flaw in the Constitution – one that could leave the nation without a leader. Here Berry begs the question of what would happen if both the president and vice-president-elect were killed before being sworn into office?
In a fascinating side plot, Berry writes about a secret society created by Continental Army members after the Revolutionary War. The group is called the Society of the Cincinnati. I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of them, nor was I completely confident they were real. I paused reading just long enough to pull up Google and run a search.
As it turns out, the Society of Cincinnati is definitely real. It was founded in 1783, and is the nation’s oldest patriotic organization. They serve to “promote knowledge and appreciation of the achievement of American independence and to foster fellowship among its members.”
One of the things that makes the Society of Cincinnati unique is that the founders tasked their descendants with” preserving the memory of the patriotic sacrifices that made American liberty a reality” – making them a hereditary organization where membership is passed down from generation to generation. Additionally, past members have lent their military expertise to presidents, and even helped to draw up battle plans to take Canada, or what would have been America’s 14th colony.
What this secret society has to do with Cotton’s current problem is an answer you’ll have to get by reading Steve Berry’s new book. All I can tell you is that Berry took the Society of Cincinnati and expertly wove them into the book’s main plot in a way that will keep readers on their toes as they race to turn the pages and see where the story is headed.
What was supposed to be a quick, simple mission for Cotton Malone soon turns into a high-stakes game of espionage that could have a catastrophic ending. It’s up to Cotton and the rest of the gang from Magellan Billet to neutralize the threat and save the day once again.
WHY I LOVED IT
I’m a big fan of Berry’s work, but his last couple of books, particularly last year’s The Patriot Threat, didn’t seem to quite live up to the level of excellence fans have come to expect from him. If you felt that way as a reader, then rest assured, Berry is back and better than ever. In fact, The 14th Colony is my favorite Cotton Malone book since The Templar Legacy (2006), which first introduced the character.
There’s a lot to like about this novel. From beginning to end, it’s incredibly well-written and displays brilliant pacing. The opening scene, as I mentioned, is very strong. How could anyone not love reading a scene between Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II? I was surprised to hear Reagan’s voice in my head as I read, something I hadn’t planned on doing purposefully, which is a testament to the authenticity Berry writes with.
WHY YOU SHOULD READ IT
There’s nobody quite like Cotton Malone in the thriller genre. Brad Meltzer is the author most comparable to Steve Berry, but his series protagonist, Beecher White, is nothing like Malone.
Berry, like Brad Thor – especially in his recent novels – is one of the few authors who knows how to genuinely keep you entertained, while also teaching you something along the way. You close their books feeling satisfied that your thriller itch was scratched, but also smarter than when you began the story.
Longtime fans of the series will enjoy knowing that many recurring characters pop up throughout this book. There are plenty of twists, turns, potential love interests and explosions to satisfy everyone, so even the hard to please will find plenty to love about this novel.
There’s a reason why this series has lasted eleven books, and it’s not hard to figure out. Each novel is really good, and each of them offers something different. I don’t know how long Steve Berry can keep churning them out, but I hope he keeps writing Cotton Malone thrillers for many years to come.
Author: Steve Berry
Pages: 464 (hardcover)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: April 5, 2016 (pre-order now!)