Maybe the only person who’s better-traveled than Cotton Malone, the hero of Steve Berry’s best-selling series of international thrillers, is Steve Berry himself.
The author, whose work for historic preservation has been recognized by everyone from the American Library Association to the Smithsonian Institution, has sent his main character to exotic locales around the world, from Denmark to Austria, from England to China, from Portugal to Viet Nam. Berry’s dedication to history also led him and his wife Elizabeth to create History Matters, an organization devoted to helping communities around the world with local historic preservation.
In his novels, including his latest, The Patriot Threat (Minotaur Books, 2015), Berry has sent Malone across the United States in pursuit of assassins, traitors, spies and other literary ne’er-do-wells. And, as usual, Berry did the advance footwork, visiting all the locations to which he dispatched his hero.
“Washington D.C. is a major focal point of (The Patriot Threat), and so is the National Gallery of Art,” Berry told BookTrib. “I made four trips to the National Gallery of Art. Pretty much everything that’s in the novel, I walked through it myself. There’s a painting there in Gallery 62 that figures into the novel, and so I spent a lot of time in the American section of the National Gallery.”
Washington D.C. has become a familiar locale for Berry fans throughout the Cotton Malone thrillers, as have other fascinating historical sites. “We did a lot of running around in D.C. and out in Virginia,” Berry said. “The rural countryside of Virginia has figured into the novels, Maryland has figured into the novels. Salisbury House in Des Moines, Iowa was a prominent place in The Lincoln Myth. Eastern North Carolina where the pirates went out in the 18th century was in The Jefferson Key. So yes, I’ve had a wide range of American locales in the books.”
And it’s not just the places, but the people who helped make Berry’s trips so memorable.
“Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve had nothing but great cooperation and friendliness. I mean, I’ve never had a bad experience, to be honest with you, in any of the sites that we’ve visited.”
Some of the people Berry has met have even found their way into the Cotton Malone novels. “There are lots of real names I use,” Berry said. “Most of the time [with a name in a novel], it’s someone I know.
“I tell people that’s not necessarily a compliment,” the author says with a chuckle, “because you’re probably going to die an excruciating death. Most of them die an excruciating death. But I tell them all the time, ‘it’s not you, it’s just your name. It doesn’t look like you, act like you, talk like you or anything—it’s just your name.’ And most people enjoy it.”
Asked if there were one place to recommend for an American vacation, it’s no surprise that a history authority of Berry’s caliber would come back to the nation’s capital. “I have to say Washington D.C.,” he said. “If you’re going to one place, that’s the place. It’s the seat of government, it’s got the Smithsonian. Everything’s there. It’s all in one place. It’s a remarkable place to visit. I go there about three or four times a year, and it’s quite remarkable.”
So the next time you’re visiting Washington—or any other historically significant site in the U.S., for that matter—keep an eye out for a silver-haired gentlemen who may be scoping the place out for Cotton Malone’s next adventure. You might want to think twice, though, about giving him your name.
Get to know Steve Berry
Come meet Steve Berry on April 30 at 4 p.m. ET for his BookTrib live chat. You can even submit questions you’d like him to answer using the form provided, and we can send you a reminder the morning of the interview as well.
Learn more about The Patriot Threat and pre-order at Steve Berry’s website.