Another hasty exercise in suspense from airport novelist Berry.
Secret codes? Check. Hidden archeological marvel? Check. Square-jawed, steely-eyed hero? Check. This is the latest entry in Berry’s (The Paris Vendetta, 2009, etc.) Cotton Malone series, starring the mild-mannered bookseller who snaps into a gun-toting, cinematically framed hero at a moment’s notice. This time the bad guys get Malone’s notice in a hurry when they kidnap his sort-of girlfriend Cassiopeia Vitt, forcing him into kick-ass Bourne mode. After a turbulent opening, Berry settles into his modus operandi: endless, eye-glazing exposition delivered by characters conjured up to serve just that purpose. Here, it’s Malone’s old boss Stephanie Nelle from the U.S. Justice Department and the shadowy Russian operative who lets Malone in on this week’s conspiracy. Three powerful Chinese officials—Karl Tang, the first vice premier, Ni Yong, the head of the government’s anti-corruption efforts, and Pau Wen, a former advisor to Mao—are circling around a world-shifting (and unbelievably absurd) secret. The Chinese have found that oil, instead of originating from compressed biological material, is “simply a primordial material the earth forms and exudes on a continual basis.” Crafty Cotton Malone gets it right away: “It’s endless?” Cue break-in to an Antwerp museum to steal an ancient lamp (read: MacGuffin), followed by a supersecret flight to China to break into the tomb of Qin Shi, the first Emperor of China, during which the bad guys are revealed as member of the Ba, a 2,000-year-old supersecret sect. Oh, and they’re eunuchs, too. Berry does the job as well as most of his peers, but the long-winded conspiracy theories and controversy-baiting premise leave much to be desired. None of which will prevent it from becoming a bestseller.
One more superfluous shoot-'em-up catering to the most common denominator.