Not many books can be considered to be a “special event,” when they’re released, but to fans of Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone - an agent of the Magellan Billet, a covert intelligence unit within the U.S. Justice Department - any novel featuring him is indeed an anxiously anticipated event.
The Jefferson Key is Steve Berry at the height of his writing power. This brilliant novel combines political intrigue, action, adventure, suspense, and more than a smattering of history, which is a Steve Berry trademark. All of his novels are extremely well-researched, and here Berry goes to no lesser source than the Constitution of the United States as the jumping-off point for his tale - specifically Article 1, Section 8, dealing with legalized privateering. Four United States presidents have been assassinated: in 1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963. While each murder seems to be totally unrelated and separated by time, could it be possible that they were all killed for the same reason – the privateering clause in Article 1, Section 8? It’s up to Malone to prevent the same fate befalling a fifth president in The Jefferson Key, but will even his inimitable skills be enough to prevent President Danny Daniels from being assassinated?
The chapters are short, the writing terse and concise, propelling the plot along at a breakneck speed and guaranteeing that even the most jaded lover of the thriller genre won’t be disappointed or grow bored with The Jefferson Key. At the novel’s outset, Stephanie Nelle, head of the Magellan Billet and Cotton’s boss, has been “out of office for six days now on DNC.” DNC means Do Not Contact - “don’t call me, I’ll call you.” She has actually been kidnapped by an organization called the Commonwealth, whose roots go back to the beginning of the founding of the United States. They were granted their rights to be privateers by George Washington, who acknowledged that the Revolutionary War could not have been won without their aid, disrupting England’s shipping and supplying America with much-needed money: 20 percent of the booty they plundered went to the U.S. government.
Though the majority of presidents have gone along with Article 1, Section 8, recognizing the contributions that the Commonwealth has made in different wars, four of them questioned the rights of the Commonwealth - and four ended up very dead. A quartet of wealthy families instituted the Commonwealth, and their families have carried on this heritage on to this day. But their rights to continue being privateers granted by the Congress are legally tenuous, due to the actions of President Andrew Jackson. He ripped out the two pages in the Congressional Record dealing with the granting of the right to avoid being prosecuted for their crimes, unless they commit murder.
Why would Jackson have done such a thing? The Commonwealth, angered at Jackson’s prosecution of two pirates, had sent a madman to assassinate him. Two shots were fired at point-blank range, and in both cases, the gunpowder was too damp and the guns misfired. Needless to say, President Jackson was, like Queen Victoria, “not amused.” Though he was sixty-nine at the time, Ol’ Hickory tried to attack his would-be assailant with his hickory walking stick. To get some degree of revenge on the Commonwealth, whom he suspected of having been behind the assassination attempt, Jackson ripped out the pages and secreted them away. He gave the members of the Commonwealth a chance to locate the pages, if they could figure out their location by solving a ciphered message created by a mathematician friend of Thomas Jefferson’s.
And there you have it - the basic ingredients for another masterpiece by one of the best authors of the thriller genre alive. Berry writes with great authority, and when Cotton and his former rival/current lover Cassiopeia Vitt journey from places like New York City, Bath, North Carolina, and Monticello, Virginia, readers go along with them. Berry describes the hotels they stay at and the streets they travel on, and the restaurants and stores they shop at, as if he has been there himself (which, if I were to guess, he has, because of his keen attention to detail).
The Commonwealth (especially the richest member of the four leaders, Quentin Hale) prove to be a ruthless and extremely dangerous enemy, even for Cotton Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt. The privateers who make up the Commonwealth, billionaires to a man, make the mistake of trying to take down one of our wealthiest allies, Dubai, bringing the wrath of the IRS down upon their heads - and, worse for them, the wrath of Malone, Vitt, Nelle, and the entire Magelan Billet.
The Jefferson Key is an exciting, suspenseful thrill ride from start to finish, and Cotton Malone and his creator have never been better. It can be read and thoroughly enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, though I’d recommend you read all of the Cotton Malone novels - they’re all great thrillers in every sense of the word.