The Venetian Betrayal by Steve Berry is the latest in his line of historical thrillers. Once again featuring Cotton Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt, the book takes the reader on a series of twists and turns throughout Europe and Asia, focusing on the question, “Where is Alexander the Great buried?” Any preconceptions about the answer to this question will be shattered by the end of the book.
Overall, The Venetian Betrayal is an enjoyable read. While it doesn’t quite measure up to his previous works, it’s still exciting and a lot of fun. Berry’s characters are amusing and relatively well-written, as they’ve been ironed out over a few previous books. One thing that does impress about this book is the character development, specifically that of Cassiopeia Vitt. Character depth isn’t usually a main focal point of the thriller genre. However, Berry manages to give Vitt an additional layer, which is a welcome change.
As a big fan of Berry’s work, I had some problems with The Venetian Betrayal. First of all, the title doesn’t really seem to apply to the book. After having read the book, it makes some sense, but the overall book is about Alexander the Great’s tomb. Venice (and its Council) does factor into the novel, but not heavily enough to deserve prominent naming in the title. Berry’s previous book titles have referenced the historical mystery they are trying to solve: The Amber Room is about trying to find the Amber Room, The Romanov Prophecy is about trying to find the last missing Romanovs, The Third Secret is about the third secret of the Virgin Mary’s appearance to children, The Templar Legacy is about the ancient Templar treasure, and The Alexandria Link is about the Library of Alexandria. So it should follow that the title of The Venetian Betrayal should have somehow referenced Alexander the Great (though in some ways, it makes sense that it doesn’t – from a marketing standpoint, people may have gotten it confused with The Alexandria Link). However, this title discrepancy is symbolic for an overall shift in Berry’s focus throughout the book. In his previous books, the focal point is the history – anything that is happening now is secondary. However, in The Venetian Betrayal, modern-day politics comes first. The book is essentially about the Central Asian Federation. Any reference to Alexander the Great seems merely that: a secondary reference.
And that is where the book was lacking. Berry’s books are unique and remarkable for their ability to turn history into a fascinating subject. They ride the “Da Vinci Code” wave (my name for it - though that book and Berry’s The Amber Room were published in close proximity) and are incredibly successful at it. Though history does heavily factor into The Venetian Betrayal, it isn’t a main character. This missing component resonates throughout the book, and the reader is left with a sense of dissatisfaction at the end of the book.
By and large, Berry can write historical thrillers well. He has become a master of making history interesting and writing gripping tales that leave the reader at the edge of their seat. While The Venetian Betrayal is good, it’s not great, especially compared with Berry’s previous work. It’s a little too formulaic, and the emphasis on current world politics rather than history detracts from the book. While I eagerly look forward to Berry’s next book and will definitely read it as soon as it comes out, I am left disappointed by The Venetian Betrayal.