Written by Steve Berry
First of all, be aware that this is #7 in the Cotton Malone series. I won’t review the others (mostly) because it’s been long enough that it is unfair. But it is hard to review anything but the first book in a series without considering the group in some way, shape, or form.
Honestly, I think I’m a little tired of this one. I started re-reading the series in August of 2016. So that’s 7 books in the series in less than a year. That could be the issue. Whatever it is, The Jefferson Key just didn’t “wow” me. It was better than The Emperor’s Tomb, which is, in my opinion, the worst book of the series. But Berry has just gotten a bit formulaic for my tastes.
Here’s what happens. Cotton Malone, former special agent for the Justice Department, gets pulled into a nefarious caper, once again against his will. The caper involves historical information and priceless artifacts. The hot people are either good guys or bad guys. The ugly people are bad guys. There is misdirection, racing against the clock, destruction of historical objects, and general hijinks.
There wasn’t anything wrong with this book. The backstory is complete and believable. The characters are as believable as possible in this sort of story. I truly think I’ve just read the books too closely. The first five books were total escapism for me. I was turning pages. I was engaged. I was escaping into this world of adventure. So maybe they were too close. Or maybe Berry is in a situation where he’s expected to turn in books on a schedule and the writing has suffered. Maybe The Emperor’s Tomb was just so painful that it ruined the next book. I’ll let you be the judge.
I do love that Berry writes strong female characters. I love that these books have an intellectual aspect to the adventure. And I adore the history. I always learn something, which is very, very cool.
This book was about pirates and American history, which is a departure from the European and Asian history of the previous books. It was cool to reimagine history and possible conspiracies behind all the attempted and accomplished Presidential assassinations. Cotton, Cassiopeia, Stephanie, President Daniels, and crew are fully fleshed out characters by this point, and they don’t deviate from who you think they are. There are twists and surprises that are fun. I think Berry tries a bit too hard at times to throw in a twist or complication that really just interfere with the story. But overall, it is enjoyable. Just not as much of a page turner as the earlier books.