The Jefferson Key (Cotton Malone Series #7)

( 495 )


Four presidents of the United States have been assassinated—in 1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963—each murder seemingly unrelated. But what if those presidents were all killed for the same shocking reason: a clause contained in the United States Constitution? This is the question faced by former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone. When President Danny Daniels is nearly killed in the heart of Manhattan, Malone ...

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The Jefferson Key (Cotton Malone Series #7)

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Four presidents of the United States have been assassinated—in 1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963—each murder seemingly unrelated. But what if those presidents were all killed for the same shocking reason: a clause contained in the United States Constitution? This is the question faced by former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone. When President Danny Daniels is nearly killed in the heart of Manhattan, Malone risks his life to foil the murder—only to find himself at odds with the Commonwealth, a secret society of pirates first assembled during the American Revolution. Racing across the nation and taking to the high seas, Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt must break a secret cipher originally possessed by Thomas Jefferson, unravel a mystery concocted by Andrew Jackson, and unearth a document forged by the Founding Fathers themselves—one powerful enough to make the Commonwealth unstoppable.
Don’t miss Steve Berry’s short story “The Devil’s Gold” and a sneak peek of his new novel, The Columbus Affair, in the back of the book.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the start of Berry's ingeniously plotted seventh Cotton Malone novel (after The Emperor's Tomb), former U.S. Justice Department agent Malone, who's been summoned to New York City by his old boss, Stephanie Nelle, manages to thwart an attempt to assassinate the U.S. president outside a midtown Manhattan hotel. Malone soon finds himself in the middle of a power struggle with roots in presidential history. A cipher formulated by Thomas Jefferson and employed by Andrew Jackson has been unbroken for 175 years. Documents hidden by Jackson contain the key to the legitimacy—and the wealth and power—of the Commonwealth, a coalition of privateers or pirates dating from the American Revolution. Malone and his lover, Cassiopeia Vitt, must match wits and survival skills with several formidable foes, including rogue agent Jonathan Wyatt and Quartermaster Clifford Knox of the Commonwealth. Berry offers plenty of twists and vivid action scenes in a feast of historical imagination. Author tour. (May)
From the Publisher
“One of the most spellbinding and ingenious openings in all of thrillerdom. The cast of characters is huge but every one of them is memorable. The action is intense and masterfully choreographed. As always with Steve Berry, you’re educated about significant things while your knuckles are turning white and the pages are flying. Easily Cotton Malone’s most epic, swashbuckling adventure.” —David Baldacci

"The Constitution. . . secret codes . . . loads of history. . . AND pirates! What else does anyone need? The Jefferson Key won't just haunt your nights—it'll haunt your life. Cotton Malone is coming back to the scariest place of all: Home." —Brad Meltzer

"THE JEFFERSON KEY starts with a bang and holds the reader in its grip until the last page. Fascinating American history, up-to-the-minute politics, pulse-pounding action. This is a story Mitch Rapp would love." —Vince Flynn

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345505521
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/27/2011
  • Series: Cotton Malone Series, #7
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 592
  • Sales rank: 102,823
  • Product dimensions: 4.28 (w) x 7.76 (h) x 1.42 (d)

Meet the Author

Steve Berry

Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Lincoln Myth, The King’s Deception, The Columbus Affair, The Jefferson Key, The Emperor’s Tomb, The Paris Vendetta, The Charlemagne Pursuit, The Venetian Betrayal, The Alexandria Link, The Templar Legacy, The Third Secret, The Romanov Prophecy, and The Amber Room. His books have been translated into 40 languages with more than 18,000,000 copies in 51 countries.
History lies at the heart of every Steve Berry novel. It’s this passion, one he shares with his wife, Elizabeth, that led them to create History Matters, a foundation dedicated to historic preservation. Since 2009 Steve and Elizabeth have traveled across the country to save endangered historic treasures, raising money via lectures, receptions, galas, luncheons, dinners, and their popular writers’ workshops. To date, nearly 2,500 students have attended those workshops. In 2012 their work was recognized by the American Library Association, which named Steve the first spokesman for National Preservation Week. He was also appointed by the Smithsonian Board of Regents to serve on the Smithsonian Libraries Advisory Board to help promote and support the libraries in their mission to provide information in all forms to scientists, curators, scholars, students, and the public at large. He has received the Royden B. Davis Distinguished Author Award and the 2013 Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers. His novel The Columbus Affair earned him the Anne Frank Human Writes Award, and his historic preservation work merited the 2013 Silver Bullet from International Thriller Writers.
Steve Berry was born and raised in Georgia, graduating from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. He was a trial lawyer for 30 years and held elective office for 14 of those years. He is a founding member of International Thriller Writers—a group of more than 2,600 thriller writers from around the world—and served three years as its co-president.
For more information, visit

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Read an Excerpt


6:13 pm

One mistake was not enough for Cotton Malone.

He made two.

Error number one was being on the fifteenth floor of the Grand Hyatt hotel. The request had come from his old boss Stephanie Nelle, through an email sent two days ago. She needed to see him, in New York, on Saturday. Apparently, the subject matter was something they could discuss only in person. And apparently, it was important. He'd tried to call anyway, phoning Magellan Billet headquarters in Atlanta, but was told by her assistant, "She's been out of the office for six days now on DNC."
He knew better than to ask where.

DNC. Do Not Contact.

That meant don't call me, I'll call you.

He'd been there before himself the agent in the field, deciding when best to report in. That status, though, was a bit unusual for the head of the Magellan Billet. Stephanie was responsible for all twelve of the department's covert operatives. Her task was to supervise. For her to be DNC meant that something extraordinary had attracted her attention.

He and Cassiopeia Vitt had decided to make a New York weekend of the trip, with dinner and a show after he discovered what Stephanie wanted. They'd flown from Copenhagen yesterday and checked into the St. Regis, a few blocks north of where he now stood. Cassiopeia chose the accommodations and, since she was also paying for them, he hadn't protested. Plus, it was hard to argue with regal ambience, breathtaking views, and a suite larger than his apartment in Denmark.

He'd replied to Stephanie's email and told her where he was staying. After breakfast this morning, a key card for the Grand Hyatt had been waiting at the St. Regis' front desk along with a room number and a note.

He'd wondered about the word exactly, but realized his former boss suffered from an incurable case of obsessive behavior, which made her both a good administrator and aggravating. But he also knew she would not have contacted him if it wasn't truly important.

He inserted the key card, noting and ignoring the do not disturb sign.

The indicator light on the door's electronic lock switched to green and the latch released.

The interior was spacious, with a king- sized bed covered in plush purple pillows. A work area was provided at an oak- top desk with an ergonomic chair. The room occupied a corner, two windows facing East 42nd Street, the other offering views west toward 5th Avenue. The rest of the décor was what would be expected from a high- class, Midtown Manhattan hotel.

Except for two things.

His gaze locked on the first: some sort of contraption, fashioned of what appeared to be aluminum struts, bolted together like an Erector Set. It stood before one of the front windows, left of the bed, facing outward. Atop the sturdy metal support sat a rectangular box, perhaps two feet by three, it too made of dull aluminum, its sides bolted together and centered on the window. More girders extended to the walls, front and back, one set on the floor, another braced a couple of feet above, seemingly anchoring the unit in place.

Was this what Stephanie meant when she'd said important?

A short barrel poked from the front of the box. There seemed no way to search its interior, short of unbolting the sides. Sets of gears adorned both the box and the frame. Chains ran the length of the supports, as if the whole thing was designed to move.

He reached for the second anomaly.

An envelope. Sealed. With his name on it.

He glanced at his watch. 6:17 pm.

Where was Stephanie?

He heard the shrill of sirens from outside.

With the envelope in hand, he stepped to one of the room's windows and glanced down fourteen stories. East 42nd Street was devoid of cars. Traffic had been cordoned off. He'd noticed the police outside when he'd arrived a few minutes ago.

Something was happening.

He knew the reputation of Cipriani across the street. He'd been inside before and recalled its marble columns, inlaid floors, and crystal chandeliers a former bank, built in Italian Renaissance style, leased out for elite social gatherings. Just such an event seemed to be happening this evening, important enough to stop traffic, clear the sidewalks, and command the presence of half a dozen of New York City's finest, who stood before the elegant entrance.

Two police cars approached from the west, lights flashing, followed by an oversized black Cadillac DTS. Another New York City police car trailed. Two pennants rose from either side of the Cadillac's hood. One an American flag, the other the presidential standard.
Only one person rode in that car.

President Danny Daniels.

The motorcade wheeled to the curb before Cipriani. Doors opened. Three Secret Service agents sprang from the car, studied the surroundings, then signaled. Danny Daniels emerged, his tall, broad frame sheathed by a dark suit, white shirt, and powder- blue tie.

Malone heard whirring.

His gaze found the source.

The contraption had come to life.

Two retorts banged and the window on the other side of the room shattered, glass plunging downward to the sidewalk seventy-five feet below. Cool air rushed inside, as did the sounds of a pulsating city. Gears spun and the device telescoped through the now empty window frame.

He glanced down.

The window's shattering had attracted the Secret Service's attention. Heads were now angled up, toward the Grand Hyatt.
Everything happened in a matter of a few seconds.

Window gone. Device out. Then—
Rat- tat- tat.

Shots were fired at the president of the United States.

Agents smothered Daniels to the sidewalk.

Malone stuffed the envelope into his pocket and raced across the room, grabbing hold of the aluminum frame, trying to dislodge the device.

But it would not budge.

He searched for and spotted no power cords. The thing, apparently a remote- controlled, high- powered weapon, kept firing. He saw agents trying to maneuver their charge back to the car. He knew that once Daniels was inside, armor plating would provide protection.
The device spit out more rounds.

He dove out the window, balancing himself on the frame, and grabbed hold of the aluminum box. If he could yank it from side to side, or up and down, at least he could deflect its aim.

He managed to force the barrel left, but motors inside quickly compensated.

Below, with incoming fire momentarily deflected, agents stuffed Daniels back into the car, which wheeled away. Three men remained, along with the policemen who'd been waiting at Cipriani.

Guns were drawn.

His second mistake now became evident.

They started firing.

At him.

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Interviews & Essays

Steve Berry on The Jefferson Key

Cotton Malone is known for his overseas exploits. A former-Justice Department operative, who can't stay out of trouble, he's found adventures in all parts of Europe (The Templar Legacy, The Paris Vendetta), Central Asia (The Venetian Betrayal), Antarctica (The Charlemagne Pursuit), the Middle East (The Alexandria Link), and China (The Emperor's Tomb). But he's never had an American adventure.

Until now.

The Jefferson Key was great fun to research. My wife Elizabeth and I traveled to New York City; Washington, D.C.; Bath, North Carolina; Monticello; and Richmond, Virginia. Monticello was particularly interesting since the terrific novelist, Katherine Neville--author of The Eight and The Fire--played host. Katherine serves on the estate's board of directors and she led us on a behind-the-scenes tour that helped formulate a number of scenes that would later appear in the book. We spent a wonderful day there, wandering the halls and staircases, snapping pictures, checking out every nook and cranny. In Richmond, we stayed at The Jefferson, a grand hotel that also makes an appearance in the story.

Bath, North Carolina was similarly intriguing. Three hundred years ago, Bath was a hotbed for Atlantic pirates, a bustling port and a ship building center. Its location, on a quiet inlet of the Pamlico River, not far from open ocean, made it ideal for both. And though it's now a sleepy village of about 300 residents, delving into its colonial and pre-colonial past was exciting. After all, pirates are fascinating--but they don't match the Hollywood stereotype. The real thing is even better, and The Jefferson Key deals with the real thing.

The research for this novel spanned 18 months, which is normal for my books. Along the way, we uncovered a secret cipher originally possessed by Thomas Jefferson; concocted a mystery for Andrew Jackson; and created a centuries-old document envisioned by the Founding Fathers themselves. It was fun exploring American history, especially the Constitution, which forms a huge part of this plot. With every book there's a challenge to describe the story in as few words as possible. For this one, we came up with this: Four United States presidents have been assassinated--in 1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963--each murder seemingly unrelated. But what if those presidents were all killed for the same reason--a clause in the United States Constitution, contained within Article 1, Section 8--that would shock Americans.

Got you interested?

I hope so.

Enjoy The Jefferson Key.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 495 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 499 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 30, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    This is a brilliant exhilarating thriller

    Stephanie Nelle leaves a mysterious message for former Justice Department field operative Cotton Malone to meet her in New York immediately. Not one to ignore a summons from his former boss, Malone and his beloved Cassiopeia Vitt shut down their Copenhagen book store to fly to the States.

    In Manhattan, Malone observes an assassination attempt on President Danny Daniels, but intercedes this saving the life of POTUS. However, the Secret Service assumes he is the assassin and attacks him. He soon finds himself in further danger from the Commonwealth Society who has enforced Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution several times with four of them successful in 1865, 1881, 1901 and 1963. Malone learns of a Jeffersonian cipher deployed by Jackson after a failed assault but unused since. Meanwhile he and Vitt struggle to survive as Commonwealth Quartermaster Clifford Knox stalks them. The fugitive pair finds historical evidence of the intent of the Founding Fathers in ratifying that particular clause as the runaways are considered the traitors and the Commonwealth has the highest law in the land behind them.

    This is a brilliant exhilarating thriller that uses the Constitution and American history to frame a great tale that will have readers hooked throughout. After spending time overseas (see The Paris Vendetta and The Emperor's Tomb), Malone comes home only to be caught in the crosshairs of a secret powerful group applying Article 1 Section 8: "The Congress shall have the Power to . grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules on concerning Captures on Land and Water". Filled with stunning spins to American history, fast-paced from the opening 1835 Jackson assassination attempt to the final denouement, The Jefferson Key will be on the short list for best thriller of the year.

    Harriet Klausner

    13 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer


    Right from the start this book draws you in. Espionage, government secrecy, conspiracy, and a history lesson all wrapped up in one. Clear you calendar, because it's definitely a tough one to put down once you start.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 15, 2011


    There were too many short chapters, with every one focusing on a different character. It was very confusing to keep up with. The story was alright, but too many references to other events in the series.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 10, 2011



    5 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 28, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Technically thrilling but actually boring! Too many main charac

    Technically thrilling but actually boring! Too many main characters (8 or so), none of them developed in the least, and most of them with ugly names (Wyatt, Knox, Kaiser, Cotton, Carbonell...). Jarring switches from one character's actions to another's every page or so. Almost all action scenes, with the "action" being shooting and avoiding getting shot. Superficial. No real suspense due to sub-par writing, and I cared not a whit for what happened to any of the crowd, as I never got to know any of them. A couple of interesting history tidbits did not make up for all that. Couldn't wait to finish it so I could read something else.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 27, 2012

    Great Read!!

    Steve Berry created a very complex character in Cotton Malone. It's great to see that Malone continues to evolve with the new love in his life. The story is a real page turner. Should be a must read series for all adventure enthusiasts.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2012

    Great read!

    If you like Steve Berry books this is a must read. Interesting plot and characters. Keeps you interest from beginning to end.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Many Fas­ci­nat­ing Tid­bits

    "The Jef­fer­son Key" by Steve Berry is the sev­enth book in the fic­tional series fea­tur­ing Cot­ton Mal­one. The story takes place in the United States, which I under­stand is a depar­ture from pre­vi­ous books in the series.

    Cot­ton Mal­one gets an email from his boss to show up in NYC at a cer­tain time in a cer­tain hotel room. What Mal­one doesn't know is that he is being setup to take the fall in a bold assas­si­na­tion attempt against sit­ting US pres­i­dent Danny Daniels.

    Mal­one and his girl­friend, Cas­siopeia Vitt, find them­selves criss­cross­ing the nation try­ing to out maneu­ver the Com­mon­wealth, a group of rich pirates. Try­ing to solve a mys­tery con­cocted by pres­i­dent Andrew Jack­son uti­liz­ing Thomas Jefferson's encryp­tion algorithm.

    Even though this is the sev­enth in the series, "The Jef­fer­son Key" by Steve Berry was my first intro­duc­tion to Cot­ton Mal­one, how­ev­erI have heard of the char­ac­ter. I'm sure I would have enjoyed the book more if I would have read the first six, how­ever this is a good book as a stand­alone as well.

    The plot moves in a very fast pace with­out any wasted words, the loca­tions are in the United States (which I under­stand is a depar­ture for the series) and the story is clever and full of action. The plot is multi-facet involv­ing sev­eral secu­rity agen­cies and inter­play between sev­eral strong char­ac­ters.

    Even though this is a fic­tional book, there are many fas­ci­nat­ing tid­bits of infor­ma­tion mixed in the fic­tional nar­ra­tive. Mr. Berry did an extra­or­di­nary amount of research and takes great care in sep­a­rat­ing fact from fic­tion at the end of the book. I don't know how the other books mea­sure up (but I intend to find up) but I found the plot very com­plex but also very intrigu­ing.

    Mr. Berry man­ages to tie the assas­si­na­tion of the four pres­i­dents who died by the gun (Kennedy, Lin­coln, Garfield and McKin­ley) as well as the attempted assas­si­na­tion of Andrew Jack­son to the "Com­mon­wealth". This group of pirates/pri­va­teers were guar­an­teed immu­nity in per­pe­tu­ity from Con­gress and are resent­ful when the sit­ting pres­i­dent tries to renege on that promise.

    Besides hash­ing out some his­tory, Mr. Berry also does a fan­tas­tic job writ­ing about pirates and how they lived and oper­ated in days of yore. Sep­a­rat­ing fact from fic­tion while telling a good story is cer­tainly an art I appre­ci­ate more and more.

    I espe­cially loved to read about loca­tions which I have been to (such as Wash­ing­ton DC, Mon­ti­cello and more). Even though I know Mr. Berry didn't have good ol' me in mind when writ­ing the book, I still felt excited when read­ing about those locations.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 5, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    A very good novel! Lots of action and excitement to keep it mov

    A very good novel! Lots of action and excitement to keep it moving rather fast. Full of interesting history as usual with Berry's writing. This is up your alley if you like historical fiction.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 31, 2011


    I love Berry's books both for their history and drama. The Jefferson Key is missing the excitement of his previous works as the villians are ridiculous with the brains of fleas and we were shown from the beginning that they were not to be taken seriously. The only one fighting against Malone with any spunk is a rogue agent he had called to task for a shooting. Hopefully his next novel will be better as the only thing that got me to finish this one was the history.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    Great book. Steve Berry is a great author. Keeps your interest alive. Cotton Malone and Cassiopia Vitt rock!! A must get book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 19, 2011

    Easy read, but nonsense

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Posted June 10, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Typical Berry mystery, fun and entertaining.

    The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry

    This is the latest Cotton Malone book, but the first that is set in America. Mr. Berry Starts with the premise that the four presidential assassinations (1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963) although seemingly unrelated, were caused by the same reason. A group called The Commonwealth composed of pirates that were legalized by Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution: "The Congress shall have the power to declare War, grant letters of Marquee and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water."

    Thus, President George Washington on February 9th, 1793 granted a letter of Marque to Archibald Hale, and The Commonwealth was born. Ruled by four families: The Hales, The Cogburns, The Boltons, and the Surcoufs; they were granted license by Congress to pirate enemy ships, with the condition that they contributed 20% of their earnings to the US Treasury. They were to be called Privateers and they were instrumental in most of the wars fought by our country, up to, and including aiding in the Middle East conflict.

    However, in 1835, there was an attempt by the Commonwealth to assassinate President Andrew Jackson, and Jackson punished the Commonwealth by stripping all reference to their letter of marque from the official congressional reports. He hid it in a secret place, a place was coded by Thomas Jefferson. For 175 years it had not been decoded; so the pages were lost, therefore the original marque was null and void--making the Commonwealth desperate to find the document. Otherwise they could lose all their money and power, a thing President Danny Daniels wanted to do.

    The book opens with an email from Stephanie Nelle, chief of the Magellan Billet, to Cotton Malone, an old Billet agent, asking her to go to the Grand Hyatt in NYC as President Danny Daniels goes on a secret meeting to the city. Malone stops the murder attempt on the president but is met by an old nemesis--Jonathan Wyatt--also known as The Sphinx--who was also an agent. The suggestion is that every time the Commonwealth doesn't get what they want from the government they go to whatever lengths they have to--including assassinating the US President--to get what they want.

    The plot is complicate because Andrea Carbonell, the attractive, Cuban/American head of the NIA has greater ambitions as she fears for her job. She is playing the Commonwealth, Malone, and Wyatt against each other in order to solve the Jefferson Key and destroy the Commonwealth at any cost--and also get career advancement.

    In their most perilous exploit yet, Malone and her friend and lover, Cassiopeia Vitt, race across the nation and to the high seas. Along the way, they must break the Jefferson Key, unravel the mystery concocted by
    president Jackson, and unearth a centuries-old document forged by the Founding Fathers themselves, and the only thing that could bring survival to the dying institution of The Commonwealth.

    Typical Berry mystery, fun and entertaining.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 27, 2011


    This novel is a true page turner! Packed full of history and accusations, it will certainly make your head spin. Get comfortable because you won't be able to put this one down!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 22, 2011

    Nice to read about American history from this great writer

    I've enjoyed many of Steve Berry's books, but this one was so much more interesting with a trip into America's past and an exploration of piracy and privateering.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2011

    Always good...

    Add one more certainty to life...Death, taxes and Steve Berry writing an intelligent and fun book. I will definitely be pre-ordering this one.

    1 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2015

    You disappointed me Steve Berry!

    This was not typical Steve Berry. I found it to be very fragmented and at times very boring. Most of the characters in this book were not very likeable, including the so called good guys. He could also have told this story with 125 less pages. I'm still a fan though, All authers are entitled to a bomb every once in awhile!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2015


    Fu,ck u dominic it seems like u won

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  • Posted February 27, 2015

    This book was boring. The characters were too similar and unrema

    This book was boring. The characters were too similar and unremarkable and unlikeable. The story was very choppy with no flow. It took me a month to read the first 200 pages after which I realized I was wasting my time and deleted it from my Nook. I’ll find a different book to read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 8, 2015

    Dominic u

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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