(guidelive.com, Joy Tipping, Jan 5)
Steve Berry has been a best-selling author for years, but he’s just now quitting his day job.
With all six of his previous books best-sellers and the new one, The Charlemagne Pursuit, moving briskly up the lists, Berry says he’s finally decided to be a full-time writer.
“I’ve spent the last six months gearing down” a law practice, he says by phone from his home in St. Marys, Ga. “I wanted to take it slow. The book business is funny. You basically lose your job every two years and have to start over. That’s very scary to me; I’m conservative. But I had to make the decision. My brain could not keep doing both.”
The novelist has been writing since 1990, and his first book, The Amber Room, was published in 2003. Like Berry, his primary protagonist, Cotton Malone – star of the new book and the previous three, The Templar Legacy, The Alexandria Link and The Venetian Betrayal – holds down two jobs, one official and one not so much.
Cotton’s day job is as a rare-books dealer in Copenhagen, Denmark. But as a former Justice Department agent, he keeps getting drawn into international intrigue, usually involving ancient texts or artifacts.
The first three of Berry’s books, The Amber Room, The Romanov Prophesy and The Third Secret, were stand-alone thrillers. But Cotton Malone struck a chord with readers, and Berry plans to write at least three more adventures for him.
“I think a lot of readers love that old bookshop angle, and then there’s the fact that Cotton is doing things that we all want to do: adventure and solving mysteries and such,” Berry says.
“But he’s also like us in so many ways. He has the same kind of problems we do – he has an ex-wife, a son with whom he has a difficult relationship, a troublesome ex-boss, trouble with women. But, on occasion, he can rise up and do extraordinary things.”
In The Charlemagne Pursuit, Cotton goes in search of historic mysteries and one from his family: the fate of his father, who disappeared along with the submarine he was piloting, supposedly in the North Atlantic, when Cotton was 10. Cotton discovers that Forrest Malone was really in the Antarctic when the sub and crew vanished. They were on a secret mission to investigate what the Nazis might have found when they went there in the late 1930s.
Cotton’s quest is complicated by twin sisters Dorothea Lindauer and Christl Falk, whose father also was aboard the doomed sub. And, of course, there’s a mysterious manuscript with an unreadable language. Berry says he modeled that bit on the Voynich Manuscript, which is stored in the Yale University Library.
“No one has ever been able to decipher it,” Berry says. “It was probably a Middle Ages hoax to fleece someone, but it was perfect for me. Because no one knows what it says, I could make it say whatever I wanted.”
The plot involves the notion of a “first civilization” of seafaring beings, human or otherwise, who might have guided rulers of past dynasties: Charlemagne, the Mayans, the Incans, etc.
“Charlemagne was this amazing character,” Berry says. He lived to his mid-70s, “and he ruled for 47 years, in a time when most people died in their 30s and rulers were lucky to last five years. He was way ahead of his time in so many ways, so that begs an interesting question: What if he had help?”
Berry also notes that few fiction writers have used Charlemagne as a character. “As far as I know,” he says, “only Katherine Neville has really tapped in to his mystique,” in her books The Eight and The Fire.
The Antarctic also piqued Berry’s interest. “It’s a sterile environment, no bacteria, no decay. If you put raw steaks out there today and left them, they’d freeze within seconds, and you could eat them 100 years later. They’d be perfectly preserved. That applies to everything else that might be down there, as well,” he says with an enigmatic chuckle, in deference to a reporter who hasn’t yet finished the book.