Steve Berry returns to form in his seventh novel, the fourth to feature Cotton Malone. The Charlemagne Pursuit begins with Cotton Malone’s seemingly innocuous request for a classified Navy file. His father captained a nuclear submarine that met with an accident and sank in the mid-Atlantic, and Cotton wants to know the details of his father’s death. He realizes there is more going on when, immediately after receiving the file, he is held at gunpoint when someone tries to steal it.
So Cotton is plunged into what is called “the Charlemagne Pursuit.” He encounters Dorothea Lindauer and Christl Falk, twin sisters who never learned to love one another. They are working against each other, but both want the information in Cotton’s file – their father died along with Cotton’s that nuclear sub. But the information in the report is shocking and completely unexpected. The sub was not on a mission in the mid-Atlantic but rather in Antarctic waters. Why did the navy lie? What was the sub really doing in Antarctica? And how does Charlemagne connect with Cotton’s father’s death?
After the disappointment that was The Venetian Betrayal, Berry delivers an entertaining historical thriller with The Charlemagne Pursuit. Berry’s strong point, twisting history in order to create these intriguing mysteries, is on full display in this novel, but the pursuit itself is not nearly as interesting as their end goal. In this case, what they are looking for is more interesting than the process of finding it. Without giving too much of the plot away, the thought of what’s really under the Antarctic ice shelf is fascinating. It is a question that inspires the imagination, and Berry explores it very well.
Berry manages to create interesting, three-dimensional characters without sacrificing the plot. Though the bickering between Dorothea and Christl gets tiring very quickly, Berry fleshes them out fully.
The sub-plots are also interesting, rare in a novel such as this. Usually, sub-plots end up distracting from the main storyline; they actually add to the cohesiveness of The Charlemagne Pursuit. As Cotton, Dorothea, and Christl race to discover the truth behind the etchings on Charlemagne’s tomb, Malone’s ex-boss Stephanie Nelle, the woman who obtained the nuclear sub file, is on a quest of her own. Teamed up with Edwin Davis, the deputy National Security Adviser, the two try to discover who is so intent on keeping the details of Cotton’s father’s mission secret and why.
The Charlemagne Pursuit is thoroughly entertaining pure escapist fun. Anyone who is a fan of Dan Brown’s novels and hasn’t yet should read Steve Berry - immediately.