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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Adults - Fiction

Cover Art: The Jefferson

The Jefferson Key
By Steve Berry
Ballantine, 2011, ISBN 978-0-345-50551-4, US $26 / CAN $30


Cotton Malone returns to the United States at the behest of his former boss, Stephanie Nelle, in his seventh adventure thriller. He expects a quiet, romantic weekend with Cassiopeia Vitt, but finds himself thwarting an attempt to assassinate President Danny Daniels just before attending a function in New York City. Although not responsible for the attempt on the president’s life, a man from Cotton’s past steers the police and government agencies to Malone and he is arrested as the assassin. Vitt is also taken into custody, but rather than go to jail, both she and Cotton find themselves aboard Air Force One.
Several months earlier, a man visited Edwin Davis, the President’s Chief of Staff, with an unusual request: Honor the letters of marque George Washington granted in perpetuity to four families, known collectively as the Commonwealth, for service to their country during the Revolutionary War. After Richard Lawrence tried to kill Andrew Jackson in 1835, the President suspected the Commonwealth as the real perpetrator even though he couldn’t prove so. In retaliation he removed the proof of its letters of marque from the congressional record and secreted it away. The only clue to its hiding place is a coded message that can only be deciphered using the Jefferson Key. No one has solved the puzzle in 135 years – until now.
Quentin Hale and the other captains have continued the families’ tradition of privateering, sometimes with presidential cooperation, sometimes without. Hence the reason for Hale’s visit to the White House. But Daniels refuses his request to honor their licenses, then orders various government agencies to research the letters of marque and the Commonwealth’s members. During the subsequent investigation, he learns the head of the NIA, Andrea Carbonell, is linked to the privateers. Stephanie Nelle, head of a special intelligence agency known as The Magellan Billet, offers to explore the woman’s involvement. But then Nelle disappears. Daniels asks Cotton to retrieve the deciphered message and the missing proof so he can destroy the Commonwealth, but others – including Hale – are also looking for the precious evidence. Vitt’s tasks are to track down the person who betrayed the President and find Nelle before it’s too late.
Berry is a consummate master at composing intricate thrillers. Although a large cast of characters populate this story, the reader easily follows who’s who as the author weaves the various subplots into a tapestry that is awesome and spellbinding. He expertly integrates the historical research about Jefferson’s cipher, the four presidential assassinations and the attempt on Jackson’s life, privateering, and piracy with the fiction. Since readers of this publication have a special interest in the latter two topics, Berry gets the details right! The seamless way in which he unveils his accurate portrayal of pirates and privateers easily satisfies pirate enthusiasts. From first page to last, the reader is riveted to the story, wondering how it will unfold and how the characters will resolve the various puzzles. I’ve read all the previous Malone books, but The Jefferson Key is by far the best in the series and most rewarding.
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Review Copyrighted ©2011 Cindy Vallar

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