Steve Berry, an attorney turned international bestselling author, loves history and finding little nuggets from history that people don’t know a lot about – nuggets that could impact the present. He likes to say that his novels are 90% fact and 10% speculation. He has written a number of novels that can probably best be described as political conspiracy thrillers.
His latest novel in the Cotton Malone series is The Patriot Threat. Although I have seen his novels and wondered about them, I had not read any of them until now. That said, I had no problem reading The Patriot Threat as a stand-alone novel even though it’s deep into the Cotton Malone series. If you like conspiracy novels that keep you on the edge of your seat and wondering what if then you’ll want to read the rest of this review and enter our pay-it-forward book giveaway!
FYI: This review is going to be a bit different from the way we usually review novels.
Background on Cotton Malone: In the author’s web site FAQ, this is his answer about how Cotton Malone originated – “He was born in Copenhagen while Steve was sitting at a café in Højbro Plads, a popular Danish square. That’s why Cotton owns a bookshop there. Steve wanted a character with government ties and a background that would make Malone, if threatened, formidable. But he also wanted him to be human, with flaws. Since Steve also loves rare books, it was natural that Cotton would too, so Malone became a Justice Department operative, turned bookseller, who manages, from time to time, to find trouble. Steve also gave him an eidetic memory, since, well, who wouldn’t like one of those? At the same time, Cotton is clearly a man in conflict. His marriage has failed; he maintains a difficult relationship with his teenage son; and he’s lousy with women.” Now I ask you, what reader could resist a character who not only kicks butt but also loves rare books and runs a bookstore?
Next let’s look at the premise behind the story in The Patriot Threat. When I saw the title, I could think of all kinds of internal terrorism concepts this novel could have addressed but none of them included the one used. Nobody I know likes paying income tax and every year the moaning and groaning of U.S. citizens can be heard reverberating across the land. What if the 16th amendment to the constitution, the amendment that gives the authority to collect income tax, was invalid? What if it had never been properly ratified by the required number of states? What if that ratification had gaping legal holes that could not only completely undo the country’s ability to collect said tax but would require it to give refunds of all such taxes collected since the IRS was formed? Now that would be a threat that could potentially unravel the very fabric of the country in record time…and all perfectly legally. Although I don’t like income tax any more than the next person, that thought caused my heart to skip a beat and my stomach to clinch. The thought of what that could do to undermine the country I love was not a pretty one to say the least.
At the heart of this novel is the antipathy between President Roosevelt and one of the wealthiest and most powerful Republicans in the country at that time, Andrew Mellon. Mellon served under several presidents and was a huge proponent of tax reform. He was not fond of the IRS, to put it mildly, having been investigated by the IRS at Roosevelt’s angry behest (truth is as strange as fiction). In The Patriot Threat, Mellon has been keeping a secret that could destroy the country, using it to maintain his power and control within government circles. In a confrontation with Roosevelt, he gives Roosevelt a clue in the form of a folded and marked-up dollar bill, and challenges him to figure it out. Mellon knows the decision about how to handle this political bomb shell about the 16th amendment will torture Roosevelt endlessly, i.e. payback’s a bitch.
So where does Cotton Malone and this novel come into the picture? Roosevelt and Mellon are long gone now but this secret is not and it is threatening the country, thanks to a conspiracy treatise written by an expat on the run due to tax evasion. That treatise declares that income tax is invalid and illegal and, unfortunately, this expat has done his research – scarily accurate research. Not only does this have the U.S. Treasury Department very worried but it’s attracted the attention of a disavowed member of the Kim family and his sociopathic daughter – as in the North Korean dictator’s extended family of Kims. Think about it – what wouldn’t an enemy of the U.S. do to get their hands on proof that could bring about the complete downfall of the U.S. without a single shot being fired. And for this particular member of the diabolical Kim family, it would also consolidate his quest to supplant North Korea’s current supreme ruler. Score, score, double score for the ultimate North Korean win!
A little additional history: Also embedded in this tale is a subplot about a debt the U.S. actually still owes an unsung hero of the American Revolution, Haym Salomon. Salomon was a banker who financed much of the revolution and later loaned funds to the newly formed U.S. government, and who was never repaid. He died in bankruptcy because the Congress did not have the funds to repay him. His heirs filed a claim but were also never repaid. Chicago did, however, erect a patriotic statue of him standing alongside General Washington and Robert Morris in 1941.
If you like non-stop action thrillers with interwoven political conspiracies of all kinds then you’re going to devour The Patriot Threat like candy. The conspiracies were a bit much for me until I decided to just let them fall into the buy-the-premise-buy-the-bit category. In other words, I had to stop treating them like historical fact. I have not done the research so I don’t know the facts around the 16th amendment’s ratification, and I’m not going to stir that particular potential hot political pot (tongue twister). To me this novel comes across more like 50% fact and 50% speculation. That being said, the author does give info about fact vs. fiction in the Author’s Note. No matter how much you believe is fact and how much you believe is fiction, it’s a very entertaining read and I was kept on the edge of my seat the whole time. One caution: You will have to remember to breathe from time to time while you’re vicariously battling some very nasty, diabolical bad guys from your favorite armchair!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Patriot Threat will be published on March 31, 2015 but it’s available now for pre-order in all formats from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks).
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One lucky reader will win an ARC (advance readers copy) of The Patriot Threat by Steve Berry!
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