Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Book Review: The Jefferson Key by Steve Berry

The premise of The Jefferson Key was intriguing - part Davinci Code, part Camel Club, part historical novel. It helped that David Baldacci said of The Jefferson Key "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". I'm always curious to hear what my favorite authors have to say about what they're reading. The Jefferson Key also appears on the New York Times Bestseller list - which is usually a pretty good predictor of a good read.

The Audible Publisher's Summary
Four United States presidents have been assassinated - in 1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963 - each murder seemingly unrelated and separated by time.

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?
This question is what faces former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone in his latest adventure. When a bold assassination attempt is made against President Danny Daniels in the heart of Manhattan, Malone risks his life to foil the killing—only to find himself at dangerous odds with the Commonwealth, a secret society of pirates first assembled during the American Revolution. In their most perilous exploit yet, Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt race across the nation and take to the high seas. Along the way they break a secret cipher originally possessed by Thomas Jefferson, unravel a mystery concocted by Andrew Jackson, and unearth a centuries-old document forged by the Founding Fathers themselves, one powerful enough - thanks to that clause in the Constitution - to make the Commonwealth unstoppable.


I have to admit that I liked the premise of the book a bit more than I actually liked the listen. The story was compelling, I did like the characters - the historical play was entertaining - I'm always a sucker for antiquities - but there were continuity issues with the storyline that were distracting. I thought the characters took quite a long time to develop and some of the women (in particular) blended a bit together. I discovered later that The Jefferson Key is actually part of a larger 'Cotton Malone' series - so I'm somewhat willing to imagine that I missed character development in previous novels of the series. My listen to The Jefferson Key was in several fragmented chunks which might account for some (but not all) of the continuity issues, but certainly reading or listening to a 13+ hour novel in one sitting is impractical at best.

The bottomline: I liked the novel, wish Steve Berry had explored more of the historical puzzles with more reach and depth (a'la Dan Brown). I'd recommend The Jefferson Key to someone who enjoyed the genre - but it's not on my top ten for the year.

The Jefferson Key is narrated by Scott Brick who is hands-down one of my favorite narrators of all time. Mr. Brick adds depth to everything he reads - a quality as a listener I appreciate and admire. All too often a good book is ruined by so-so narration (Emma Donahue's "The Room" certainly falls into this category).

Stick around for the historical  fact vs fiction explanation after the end of the novel - I suspect you'll be as surprised as I was about a couple of the "truths" that I would have presumed were fiction - mainly surrounding the letters of mark.

The Jefferson Key was written by Steve Berry, published by Random House Audio and narrated by Scott Brick. The Jefferson Key has a runtime of 13 hours 21 minutes and an audible release date of May 17th, 2011.

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