The Malta Exchange

Written by Steve Berry

Review written by Michael Jecks

The Malta Exchange
Hodder and Stoughton
RRP: £18.99
Released: March 5 2019

This is the fourteenth Cotton Malone story written by Steve Berry, and the first which I have read. Which is a bit of a problem, because I obviously have a lot of back story to catch up on.

However, the back story is not too relevant. When an author him/herself knows their characters perfectly well, there is less need for new readers to worry about specific foibles and flaws. It’s there in the way the participants are set down on paper.

So, what is the plot?

Interestingly, the story begins with Mussolini’s capture and death at the end of the Second World War, and as I read that, I started to think that there was going to be a story based on stolen treasures from the Fascists, perhaps. You can’t beat a good Fascist conspiracy theory ...

But no, that was only a teaser. Almost immediately we are taken to the “present day”, and Cotton Malone, who is standing near the spot where Mussolini was killed. He is there to conduct a theft on behalf of the British Secret Service, who now subcontract to retired US agents, apparently. There are documents that showed Churchill had been involved in discussions with Mussolini, making promises that were intended to keep Italy from forming an alliance with Germany. Sadly these negotiations failed, and their discovery could be embarrassing to Her Majesty’s Government. Which is why they hired a foreign contract spy, I suppose.

But while he’s there, Malone is attacked by someone who is also seeking these documents. Badly beaten, Malone almost succeeds in turning the tables on his assailant, when someone else kills the guy, taking the documents and fleeing the site. Malone tries to give chase, but can’t catch him.

And then, in Malta, Luke Daniels, once a Ranger, and now a friend of Malone’s, who works for the Department of Justice, is strapping himself into a parascending harness. He is going to watch and listen to a Cardinal in the Roman Catholic church, who is having a private meeting on top of a tower. As Daniels rises, his powerful boat moving through the waves parallel to the coastline, he can see the Cardinal and his confederate, and his directional microphone picks up the voices clearly. And he hears one of the men talking about him, and how he would soon cease to be a problem, just as the driver of his boat begins to hack at the restraining rope.

That is all in the first breathless 45 pages. This is a competent thriller. It has two strong lead characters in Malone and Daniels. The plot is as twisty and inventive as anything written by Jeff Deaver, and works through to a climactic conclusion. But, as I say, this is not a story about the Second World War. No, it’s much more devious than that. This is about a plot to take over control of the Vatican, while taking in the Knight of Malta (The Knights of St John, or Knights Hospitaller), and a shadowy group within their ranks called The Secreti, and …

Okay, enough. So, what do I like about the book?

I do like the research. Steve Berry is proud of his efforts, and he makes sure that the reader is fully informed about his investigations into Constantine, into the beginnings of Christianity, into the creation of the Hospitallers, the layout of the Vatican, the method of electing the new Pope … many other aspects.

And that is the problem - for me. The research, the constant little digressions, got in the way of the story. There were too many sections of historical comment, usually from one of the protagonists, as if each of them was a history professor in their own right, rather than a secret agent. And then there was the wanton destruction of historical artifacts … it didn’t work for me.

But it wasn’t only that. Basically, this was not a book for me. While Malone and Daniels were well-enough fleshed out, the same cannot be said for the other characters. Malone and Daniel’s boss, Stephanie, never edged her way into my mind in any way. I have not the faintest idea what she looks like, for example, and have no feel for her motivation. The same goes for most of the other characters. They all tend to feel rather similar - there is little to distinguish them.

However, these are niggles for me as an author. This is a very competent thriller, a story that will grab a reader’s interest and hold them to the end. It will sell bucketloads, I have no doubt. It is ideal beach-fodder, for those who want to rest and read a fast-paced thriller that helps them relax while pouring the next sangria.

All the better if the drinker is sitting on a beach in Malta, where much of the action is based.

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor