Thursday, January 23, 2014

Review: The King's Deception

The King’s Deception
By Steven Berry
Ballantine, January 2014

About the Book

Cotton Malone and his fifteen-year-old son, Gary, are headed to Europe. As a favor to his former boss at the Justice Department, Malone agrees to escort a teenage fugitive back to England. But after he is greeted at gunpoint in London, both the fugitive and Gary disappear, and Malone learns that he’s stumbled into a high-stakes diplomatic showdown—an international incident fueled by geopolitical gamesmanship and shocking Tudor secrets.

At its heart is the Libyan terrorist convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103, who is set to be released by Scottish authorities for “humanitarian reasons.” An outraged American government objects, but nothing can persuade the British to intervene.

Except, perhaps, Operation King’s Deception.

Run by the CIA, the operation aims to solve a centuries-old mystery, one that could rock Great Britain to its royal foundations.

My Review

Cotton Malone, now retired from the Justice Department, is taking his son to Denmark for a getaway when his former boss calls in a favor and asks him to escort a fugitive from the U.S. to London. Now Cotton and his son Gary are caught in the middle, as competing parties struggle to obtain a thumb drive that contains a decoded journal written by Robert Cecil, advisor to Elizabeth I.

Meanwhile, Scotland is releasing the convicted Lockerbee bomber al-Megrahi (killer of over one hundred Americans on Pan Am Flight 103) for humanitarian reasons, despite Washington’s vocal protests. The Americans are now in London, pursuing Operation King’s Deception, an elaborate plot to uncover a 400-year old secret they believe is proven by Cecil’s journal: that Elizabeth I was in fact not a woman at all but rather a male stand-in, someone put in place by handlers to hide the untimely death of the real Princess Elizabeth.

It is hoped that if these facts can be proven, they can be used by the Americans to embarrass and/or blackmail the British into halting Megrahi’s release. Malone, his son, and the pickpocket are caught in the middle of a battle between international intelligence organizations, one trying to protect its national heritage and the other trying to stop the release of a convicted terrorist.

Historians and Tudor fans will bristle at Berry’s suggestion that the reign of Elizabeth I was an elaborate fraud. I am inclined to allow authors plenty of leeway to create their stories (after all, Elizabeth is long gone and no author or historian “owns” her story), but I think that artistic license is nothing when compared to the novel’s biggest issue: the premise that the Americans would use this “ancient secret” as blackmail, forcing the British to block al-Megrahi’s release. Berry does make a good case for that secret’s relevance today, yet any way you look at it, it’s an enormous stretch to presume that any secret about Elizabeth I would be anything more than momentarily awkward for modern Brits. Certainly, the secret is shaky as the foundation for international blackmail.

If you can get past the fantastic premise, which I admit is difficult to do, Berry’s story is action-packed and extremely imaginative. If Berry could have come up with another secret, any secret that held more weight than the remote possibility that Elizabeth I’s reign was a hoax, then I think this story would be much stronger. But because this “secret” is so improbable and so far in the past, it unfortunately discounts the rest of the book, which otherwise remains a decent thriller.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer,