Minotaur Books (2019)
Cotton Malone series (Book 14 of 15)
by Shirley Wetzel
What do Napoleon, Churchill, Mussolini, the Knights of Malta and the papacy have in common? In this intricately crafted thriller, crisscrossing several countries, going back many centuries, with a stellar cast of swashbuckling good guys and devilish bad guys, not to mention a high body count, all will be revealed.
Cotton Malone is a retired American Justice Department operative, now running a bookshop in Amsterdam. Life is good, if a bit boring. When MI6 asks him to take on an easy job: recovering several letters written between Churchill and Mussolini at the beginning of World War II, it seems like a well-compensated walk in the park.
When he arrives at a villa on Lake Como, Italy, he finds an open door and a dead body in the foyer. He retrieves the elephant hide satchel containing the damning letters, but before he can complete the mission he runs into somebody else who really, really wants those letters. He escapes with his life and nothing more.
In Malta, Luke Daniels, an agent for the Magellan Billet who’d been trained by Malone, is keeping an eye on Cardinal Kastor Gallo, who wants to become the next pope by hook or by crook. In his former position he’d collected volumes of the secrets and scandals of his colleagues, prime blackmail material that will insure their support in the upcoming papal conclave.
As the date for the conclave grows closer, the cases Cotton and Luke are investigating turn out to be related. The two men, aided – and/or hindered by Secret Service agent Laura Price join forces in Rome to try and prevent world-shaking chaos at the conclave. There’s a surprising twist when they are contacted by Pollux Gallo, Kastor’s identical twin. The brothers had grown up in Malta, but it was not a happy childhood and the two were not close. At age twenty, Kastor chose the Church and Pollux made a career in the Army. Now Kastor aims to become the next pope by hook or by crook, and his brother, now the head of security for the Vatican, aims to stop him. Pollux is well aware of the corruption, intrigue and back stabbing in the Church and wants to put a stop to it.
A major theme of THE MALTA EXCHANGE is the origin and evolution of the Christian church, with all its turmoil, deep secrets, and violence. The Knights of Malta, once a militant religious organization, now, on the surface, a worldwide humanitarian organization, has been an integral part the history of the church. Berry pulls no punches about the centuries of corruption and debauchery. As always, Mr. Berry has created a thriller with plenty of historic details, well-drawn characters, and exquisitely described settings. Recommended.
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