Cotton Malone, of Templar Legacy fame, can't stay away from trouble. Like many other former operatives, he longs for the quiet life of a bookseller, so he buys a rare bookshop in Copenhagen and settles into a new vocation. But his dreams of days spent ruminating over antiquarian editions vanish with the revelation that his son has been kidnapped. Perhaps to italicize that point, somebody torches his shop. The kidnappers have only a single demand, but that imperative is impossible: They want "the Alexandria link," the key to the whereabouts of the ancient lost library of Alexandria. Malone holds the key, but something prevents him from relinquishing it. That painful conundrum serves as the engine for this Da Vinci Code-style thriller.
Cotton Malone, Berry's protagonist from The Templar Legacy, returns in another globe-hopping adventure. While Cotton is working at his bookstore, his ex-wife appears and tells him that their son has been kidnapped. The ransom demand is the Alexandria Link, a source that leads to the ancient library thought to have been destroyed centuries ago. The knowledge contained in the hidden archive could change the world. Forced back into the world of espionage he wanted to forget, Cotton takes his ex-wife along while trying to rescue his son and keep the truth of the link a secret. As in the previous Malone mystery, contemporary issues and page-turning thriller elements combine with history in shocking ways. Fans of this type of thriller and readers who have already discovered Berry will not be disappointed. For all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ10/1/06; see Q&A with Berry on p. 94.—Ed.]
European billionaires, Israelis, Saudis and Americans shoot it out in an international search for ancient manuscripts that could drastically alter the map of the Middle East. Having rested up from their great labors, the cast of The Templar Legacy (2006) faces new perils as they are thrown headlong into yet another there's-been-a-huge-misunderstanding religious mystery. The ceaseless action begins with the kidnapping of the teenage son of former American secret-agent-turned-bookseller Cotton Malone, whose understandably panicked ex-wife has jetted to Copenhagen, where he now lives. There is the usual warning to keep the police out of it, but Malone has enough sense to enlist the help of his elderly but capable billionaire pal Henrik Thorvaldsen after shadowy evil-doers torch the bookstore as a warning. The kidnapper is Dominick Sabre, murderous right-hand man of elderly but malevolent billionaire Alfred Hermann, current big cheese in the Order of the Golden Fleece, a cabal of super-rich European moguls with a taste for world-scenario management. Thorvaldsen, a Jew, is also in the Order, giving him access to Hermann's plotting, which has to do with the possibility that much of the great library at Alexandria was shifted offsite before its destruction. Amid the ancient papyri and scrolls may be some early Old Testaments that point to serious geographic misunderstandings over the millennia, mistakes that would undermine the claims of the world's three monotheistic religions. Given a deadline-or the kid dies-to find his old pal George Haddad, who holds the clues to the location of the library, Malone jets to London, ex-wife in tow, in time to see Haddad assassinated, which forces him into anuneasy alliance with the treacherous Sabre. In the U.S., meanwhile, Malone's former boss uncovers involvement at the Highest Level. The president's life is in danger. Fast action and wild plotting largely mask lackluster prose in Berry's latest what-if thriller.
From the Publisher
Praise for Steve Berry
The Templar Legacy
“Richly detailed and fantastically suspenseful, this thriller grips the reader for a wild literary ride that continues until the very last page.”
The Third Secret
“A racy read . . . skillfully combines Vatican insights, old-fashioned thrills, intrigue, murder, ambition and retribution.”
The Romanov Prophecy
“Perfect for thriller fans and history buffs alike. Fabulous plot twists.”
–David Morrell, author of Creepers
The Amber Room
“Sexy, illuminating . . . my kind of thriller.”
–Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code
Read an Excerpt
Tuesday, October 4
Cotton Malone stared straight into the face of trou- ble. Outside his bookshop’s open front door stood his ex-wife, the last person on earth he’d expected to see. He quickly registered panic in her tired eyes, remembered the pounding that had awoken him a few minutes before, and instantly thought of his son.
“Where’s Gary?” he asked.
“You son of a bitch. They took him. Because of you. They took him.” She lunged forward, her closed fists crashing down onto his shoulders. “You sorry son of a bitch.” He grabbed her wrists and stopped the attack as she started crying. “I left you because of this. I thought this kind of thing was over.”
“Who took Gary?” More sobs were his answer. He kept hold of her arms. “Pam. Listen to me. Who took Gary?”
She stared at him. “How the hell am I supposed to know?”
“What are you doing here? Why didn’t you go to the police?”
“Because they said not to. They said if I went anywhere near the police, Gary was dead. They said they would know, and I believed them.”
She wrenched her arms free, her face flooded with anger. “I don’t know. All they said was for me to wait two days, then come here and give you this.” She rummaged through her shoulder bag and produced a phone. Tears continued to rain down her cheeks. “They said for you to go online and open your e-mail.”
Had he heard right? Go online and open your e-mail?
He flipped open the phone and checked the frequency. Enough megahertz to make it world-capable. Which made him wonder. Suddenly he felt vulnerable. Højbro Plads was quiet. At this late hour no one roamed the city square.
His senses came alive.
“Get inside.” And he yanked her into the shop and closed the door. He hadn’t switched on any lights.
“What is it?” she asked, her voice shredded by fear.
He faced her. “I don’t know, Pam. You tell me. Our son has apparently been taken by God-knows-who, and you wait two days before telling a soul about it? That didn’t strike you as insane?”
“I wasn’t going to jeopardize his life.”
“And I would? How have I ever done that?”
“By being you,” she said in a frigid tone, and he instantly recalled why he no longer lived with her.
A thought occurred to him. She’d never been to Denmark. “How did you find me?”
“They told me.”
“Who the hell is they?”
“I don’t know, Cotton. Two men. Only one did the talking. Tall, dark-haired, flat face.”
“How would I know?”
“How did he speak?”
She seemed to catch hold of herself. “No. Not American. They had accents. European.”
He motioned with the phone. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
“He said to open your e-mail and it would be explained.”
She glanced nervously around at the shelves cast in shadows. “Upstairs, right?”
Gary would have told her he lived over the store. He certainly hadn’t. They’d spoken only once since he’d retired from the Justice Department and left Georgia last year, and that had been two months back, in August, when he’d brought Gary home after their summer visit. She’d coldly told him that Gary was not his natural son. Instead the boy was the product of an affair from sixteen years ago, her response to his own infidelity. He’d wrestled with that demon ever since and had not, as yet, come to terms with its implications. One thing he’d decided at the time—he had no intention of ever speaking to Pam Malone again. Whatever needed to be said would be said between him and Gary.
But things seemed to have changed.
“Yeah,” he said. “Upstairs.”
They entered his apartment, and he sat at the desk. He switched on his laptop and waited for the programs to boot. Pam had finally grabbed hold of her emotions. She was like that. Her moods ran in waves. Soaring highs and cavernous lows. She was a lawyer, like him, but where he’d worked for the government, she handled high-stakes trials for Fortune 500 companies that could afford to pay her firm’s impressive fees. When she’d first gone to law school he’d thought the decision a reflection of him, a way for them to share a life together. Later he’d learned it was a way for her to gain independence.
That was Pam.
The laptop was ready. He accessed his mailbox.
Pam rushed toward him. “What do you mean? He said to open your e-mail.”
“That was two days ago. And by the way, how did you get here?”
“They had a ticket, already bought.”
He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Are you nuts? What you did was give them a two-day head start.”
“Don’t you think I know that?” she yelled. “You think I’m a complete idiot? They told me my phones were tapped and I was being watched. If I varied from their instructions, even a little, Gary was dead. They showed me a picture.” She caught herself and tears flowed anew. “His eyes . . . oh, his eyes.” She broke down again. “He was scared.”
His chest throbbed and his temples burned. He’d intentionally left behind a life of daily danger to find something new. Had that life now hunted him down? He grabbed the edge of the desk. It would do no good for both of them to fall apart. If whoever they were wanted Gary dead, then he was already. No. Gary was a bargaining chip—a way to apparently gain his undivided attention.
The laptop dinged.
His gaze shot to the screen’s lower-right corner: receiving mail. Then he saw greetings appear on the from line and your son’s life noted as the subject. He maneuvered the cursor and opened the e-mail.
YOU HAVE SOMETHING I WANT. THE ALEXANDRIA LINK. YOU HID IT AND YOU’RE THE ONLY PERSON ON EARTH WHO KNOWS WHERE TO FIND IT. GO GET IT. YOU HAVE 72 HOURS. WHEN YOU HAVE IT, HIT THE NUMBER 2 BUTTON ON THE PHONE. IF I DON’T HEAR FROM YOU AT THE END OF 72 HOURS, YOU WILL BE CHILDLESS. IF DURING THAT TIME YOU SCREW WITH ME, YOUR SON WILL LOSE A VITAL APPENDAGE. 72 HOURS. FIND IT AND WE’LL TRADE.
Pam was standing behind him. “What’s the Alexandria Link?”
He said nothing. He couldn’t. He was indeed the only person on earth who knew, and he’d given his word.
“Whoever sent that message knows all about it. What is it?”
He stared at the screen and knew there’d be no way to trace the message. The sender, like himself, surely knew how to use black holes—computer servers that randomly routed e-mails through an electronic maze. Not impossible to follow, but difficult.
He stood from the chair and ran a hand through his hair. He’d meant to get a haircut yesterday. He worked the sleep from his shoulders and sucked a few deep breaths. He’d earlier slipped on a pair of jeans and a long-sleeved shirt that hung open, exposing a gray undershirt, and he was suddenly chilled by fear.
“Pam, shut up. I have to think. You’re not helping.”
“I’m not helping? What the—”
The cell phone rang. Pam lunged for it, but he cut her off and said, “Leave it.”
“What do you mean? It could be Gary.”
He scooped up the phone after the third ring and pushed talk.
“Took long enough,” the male voice said in his ear. He caught a Dutch accent. “And please, no if-you-hurt-that-boy-I’m-going-to-kill-you bra- vado. Neither one of us has the time. Your seventy-two hours have already started.”
Malone stayed silent, but he recalled something he learned long ago. Never let the other side set the bargain. “Stick it up your ass. I’m not going anywhere.”
“You take a lot of risks with your son’s life.”
“I see Gary. I talk to him. Then, I go.”
“Take a look outside.”
He rushed to the window. Four stories down Højbro Plads was still quiet, except for two figures standing on the far side of the cobbled expanse.
Both silhouettes shouldered weapons.
“Don’t think so,” the voice said in his ear.
Two projectiles shot through the night and obliterated the windows below him.
From the Hardcover edition.