No one sells over 20 million books without understanding how to hook a reader. Over the past 17 years, and now with his 18th novel, The Malta Exchange (Minotaur Books), Steve Berry has mastered the art of page-turning. That elusive art is really the lifeblood of publishing. It’s a simple act, a touch of finger to paper – or the sweep of a finger on screen – yet when it comes to both storytelling and sales, what else matters?
There are plenty of ways to accomplish this fundamental feat. It can come from well-turned sentences and depth of character. It can come from masterful plotting. Or, in the case of Steve Berry, it may come from an ability to present history in all its heart-pounding visceral immediacy.
Since 2003, Berry has produced one sweeping thriller after another that embrace world history as the perfect setting for an action movie. After three standalones, Berry introduced his go-to series character, Cotton Malone, “one of the best intelligence operatives in the world.” Over 14 books in the series, Malone has gone from the United States Justice Department (where he served in an extra-sensitive intelligence unit called the Magellan Billet) into early retirement.
As The Malta Exchange opens, Cotton Malone, “not yet fifty years old,” is living a peaceful expat life as a bookseller in Copenhagen. That is, until he’s swept into a grand conspiracy on the eve of a papal conclave to elect a new pope. It appears there are documents associated with Constantine the Great, written in the 4th century, that could be devastating to today’s Catholic Church.
It’s a crumbling state of affairs that Berry presents in detail: The Catholic Church is a mess, with scandals that have shaken the faithful and an institutionalized corruption that would appall even the most pious. If, say, someone produced centuries-old evidence that the root of church doctrine itself was nothing more than a man-declared scheme to keep humanity in line, well, those cracked foundations could really start to crumble.
Add in the last days of Mussolini and the church’s exceedingly uncomfortable failure to offer any meaningful resistance to fascism during World War II, and the villains are clear. There are those within the Vatican – among those “red vultures,” the cardinals – that must be stopped. As ever, Cotton Malone is up to the challenge.
Readers of Steve Berry know the drill by now. You’ll come for the hero’s derring-do, but you stay for the history. With The Malta Exchange, you’ll also stay for Berry’s loving portrait of picturesque Malta, a “rock in the middle of the Med” whose central location has loomed throughout history, making it subject to an endless procession of would-be conquerors. It’s suggested that Churchill himself dangled Malta as a potential bargaining chip to prevent Italy from aligning itself with Germany in World War II. We learn that this island, “a mere 120 square miles,” is the southernmost border of the E.U. – the “front line between Europe and Africa.”
It’s clear the Maltese are a proud people, with long memories. I’m sure they’ll be raising a few glasses of Cisk lager, the national beer, in thanks to Steve Berry’s new thriller.
The Malta Exchange is now available for purchase.
About Steve Berry
STEVE BERRY is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of 13 Cotton Malone adventures and four stand-alone thrillers. His books have been translated into 40 languages with more than 22,000,000 copies in 51 countries. They consistently appear in the top echelon of The New York Times, USA Today, and indie bestseller lists. For more information, visit his website at steveberry.org.
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