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King’s Deception by Steve Berry

I had to wait awhile to get hold of  a copy of “The King’s Deception” at my local library.  It was worth the wait.

Berry has written a tightly wound thriller about the world of foreign espionage, but instead of the the American spy being a “good guy” he is a very bad guy.  This bad spook, Blake Antrim, is out to expose British historical secrets and in the process to steal his son back from the woman he had an affair with 16 years earlier.  He wants the kid to himself and thus has hatched a plot to kill the man this boy has always called his father, Cotton Malone, a former CIA operative who now owns a bookstore in Copenhagen.   Antrim is the head of a U.S. covert operation in Britain called the King’s Deception.  He threatens to expose that Queen Elizabeth I was actually a man, a bastard grandson of Henry VIII, who was placed in the role of impersonating the young Elizabeth when she secretly died at the age of 13, or so the legend goes.  What the CIA operative wants is for England to force the Scottish government to give up plans to send the mastermind behind the Lockerbie air disaster back to Libya in a humanitarian gesture when the man contracts terminal cancer.  Antrim is pitted against an equally cold-blooded MI6 operative who is determined to keep the rumor about Elizabeth I from ever getting any further, destroying the proof of the royal ruse, and killing anyone who knows about it.

Antrim weaves a rather complex plot to gain his recently-discovered son back by having his boss contact Cotton Malone to ask him to accompany a young man who has stolen British historical secrets back from the U.S. to London.  Malone decides to take his son back to Copenhagen with him, via London, for a Thanksgiving break.  What he doesn’t know is Antrim has designs on the boy and plans to eliminate Malone and eventually his former wife, while he is playing a blackmail game against the British.

There is a lot to “The King’s Deception” that is just plausible enough to allow the reader to get sucked in to the story instead of dismissing it out of hand.  The descriptions of iconic historical places in and around London will fascinate those who have never visited London and bring back fond memories to those who have visited many times and love London and British history.

The thriller is based around an historical legend made popular by Bram Stoker in 1910, based on very thin historical evidence purporting that Elizabeth I was actually a man in drag.  Berry invents a secret coded diary supposedly kept by Elizabeth’s close counselors, the Cecils, which is discovered and finally translated as the smoking gun that provides evidence as to the ruse behind the Elizabethan throne.  This diary is purely an invention the author uses to further his story, and is a most creative way to weave this legend into this modern-day thriller.  One might ask, who could possibly care what happened 400 years ago, but, given that so many English families divided the spoils of Ireland at that time, it is possible to see that the chain of title to a lot of real property could be clouded if the authority that originally gave those rights to many prominent English families were suddenly to be put into question.  Still, it is a pretty cynical proposition to believe that CIA and MI6 officials think historical secrets
are so important that they can justify eliminating civilian men, women and children who discover the secret as “collateral damage.”

The King’s Deception” is a quick read that is highly recommended for those who enjoy British historical themes wrapped around a modern-day espionage thriller.

Liz Nichols

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“Complex 90” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

Complex 90” by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins is due to be released May 7.  Collins was designated by the Spillane estate to finish several novels Spillane had in the hopper when he died.  Collins has stayed true to the hard-bitten Spillane style in this Mike Hammer novel.  This is not a detective novel so much as an espionage thriller.

The setting is 1964 Russia where Hammer, who secretly has a side gig as a black ops agent for the U.S. government, has accompanied a Senator on an international mission.  When he gets involved in a plea by their Russian translator to defect Hammer is detained by the KGB and thrown into a Russian prison.  He manages to escape at the expense of the lives of 45 Russians who try to stop him.  Some American officials are ready to disavow Hammer and send him back to Russia to answer for the deaths during his escape all in the name of detente.  What may keep him out of the hands of the Soviets is if he can identify the whereabouts of some major Soviet spies then the U.S. will have the trading power to keep Hammer out of Soviet hands and to bring home a few other detainees in Soviet prisons.  Hammer walks into the middle of a conspiracy to sell space technology secrets that nearly gets him killed.

Complex 90” is a bit dated in the sense that this is clearly a Cold War novel completed long after the Cold War has ended.  Still, there is no question that espionage still goes on between East and West.  Hammer is still his macho-man self in this thriller, but now instead of viewing women just as sex objects he seems to hold women who are beautiful, smart and accomplished in high regard.  One of those beautiful women is almost Hammer’s undoing. He also works with a black Army MP who is also held in high regard and becomes a real hero in this story.  These are modernizations of the Hammer character that I think Max Collins may have included.

Hammer fans will be glad to see him back in the skillful hands of Max Allan Collins.

Written from a supplied copy.

Liz Nichols

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