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Friday, August 1, 2014


5 stars out of 5

This is the first of Berry's books featuring the now ex-Justice Department agent Cotton Malone I've read, and, to a certain extent, that put me at a disadvantage: It's pretty clear that some of the characters have a history with Malone to which I didn't feel privy. That said, this book manages to stand on its own fairly well.

After the first few chapters, two thoughts came to mind: First, that this one would be filled with lots of historical information - as was another excellent Berry book, The Columbus Affair; and second, that this would be a sort of Da Vinci Code meets Will Robie (a character in a series by another favorite author, David Baldacci). Nothing I read from that point on changed my mind.

At issue here is the question of whether or not U.S. states have the right to secede from the Union (to which a relatively recent Supreme Court decision answered no).  At the center of the controversy is the possibility that the right to do so was, in fact, written as a sort of addendum to the U.S. Constitution by the founding fathers in a long-hidden document  - a document known to President Abraham Lincoln, who ignored it in order to preserve the Union and thus allowed the Civil War to begin. 

Into the mix early on comes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints - more commonly known as Mormons - as remains of an early expedition are uncovered to reveal that those Mormon pioneers were murdered. The ensuing investigation brings Malone into action - he's called by his former boss to locate and bring home a missing agent. This puts him at loggerheads with two formidable enemies: A very powerful U.S. Senator and high-ranking Mormon leader who has an agenda all his own which, not coincidentally, has to do with the issue of secession - as well as a dangerous  member of the Danites, a group of radical Mormons who will stop at nothing, including murder, to achieve their goals.

The historical information is well-researched (and at the end, Berry explains which parts are factual and which were concocted by him for the novel). If anything, there's a bit too much of it; I thoroughly enjoyed learning things about Lincoln, the Civil War and the Mormon religion, but it did get to be a bit much throughout the last few chapters. Also, if you don't like books that jump from place to place every chapter or two - the action takes place in at least three locations around the world - you may not care for this one. But the biggest annoyance factor for me is that Berry doesn't always make clear his antecedents; many times I had to reread a paragraph more than once to figure out who was talking or being described.

Overall, though, my nitpicks are minor, and I thoroughly enjoyed this book; although I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've taken a book to bed to finish, that's exactly what I did here. I liked it so much, in fact, that despite my near-insistence on never going back to read earlier books in any series, I just may have to give a few of these a try. 

The Lincoln Myth by Steve Berry (Ballantine Books, May 2014); 449 pp.

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