Review: The Charlemagne Pursuit – Steve Berry

My version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction, nonsense
Hodder & Stoughton
First published: 2009
ISBN: 9781444709766
Pages: 608

From the cover:
A pacy international suspense thriller with a historical twist, from the New York Times bestselling author.
Ex-agent Cotton Malone wants to know what really happened to his father, officially lost at sea when his submarine went down in the north Atlantic in 1971. But when he uses his government contacts to obtain the submarine’s sealed file, he finds he is not the only person looking for answers.
Malone is in the line of fire when he is attacked in an attempt to take the file. He is pitched into a lethal power struggle between Dorothea Lindauer and Christl Falk, twin sisters whose twisted ambition takes sibling rivalry to new levels.
Malone and the twins embark on a dangerous adventure involving Nazi explorations in Antarctica, US government conspiracies, and a series of cryptic historical clues built into the legend of Charlemagne. Forced to choose a side when neither can win, Malone is determined to uncover the truth behind his father’s death – but will he be able to escape his own?


I suppose I keep thinking this will be the one.

Maybe THIS will be the one.

This isn’t the one.

This really isn’t very good. It’s not really even a good ‘Steve Berry’ (pretty sure I read somewhere that Steve Berry isn’t the author’s real name). I think I have read a good Steve Berry book, just can’t for the life of me remember the title just now. Maybe it was one of the others.

What story there is, tries to weave some excitement around an ancient, lost civilization who were extremely advanced way before the early civilizations we know of, who influenced the early civilizations, but disappeared – almost – without trace. Charlemagne (I’m working out from that you know roughly who Charlemagne was). Re-discovered, searched for and possibly found by mad Nazis, they were then searched for again, the searchers were abandoned but possibly discovered twice, by the Americans. And of course, being Americans, they covered the whole sorry mess up. The main story follows the son and two daughters of a couple of crew members of both the Nazi expedition and the American one. There’s also some attempted political intrigue and a ruthless hit-man. And that description, is way more interesting than the actual story.

To be fair, he has done wonders with a very average idea. The idea behind the story is so extremely average, that I really can’t suggest any ways it could have been better. This is about as good as this one possibly could be. The problem with the characters is, they have none. And the problem with the way the story is told, is that he cuts about from place to place, from incident to incident, way more than can be justified. He clearly is writing while seeing an hour long tv special in his head. That by having things going on in three or four different places at the same time, will create excitement and suspense. It doesn’t. It may do on the tv, but not on the page of a book. Just creates confusion. And ‘oh, for goodness’ sake – get on with it!’ But then when he does, it isn’t worth it. And the writing style has got ‘made for tv script’ written all over it. It looks like I know a film/tv script looks. Like you write a proper story, then remove half of the ‘unnecessary’ words. Except they are necessary. To a reader.

Then there’s the end credits, citing sources and background and justification for some of the scenarios he writes about. It’s just window dressing. You really can’t polish a you-know-what. The end credits can list all the historical ‘facts’ and precidents it likes, it still doesn’t raise The Charlemagne Pursuit anywhere near above the extremely average.

And finally. The characters’ names in books like these. Always bugs me. What do the authors think happens? That parents know when they give their kids name that they will grow up to be international playboys/girls, super thieves, super heroes or ex-Marine/SAS globe-trotting, just how exactly did they get to be so rich, archaeological experts? Men with names like ‘Dirk’, or generally men with surnames as Christian names, can be super-intelligent, tall, dark, square-jawed heroes. The Clive Cussler school of story-telling (don’t ever, ever read a Clive Cussler book, even the back of one, or even glance at a few pages in a bookshop). Don’t they realise that film actor heroes change their names? He wasn’t born Kirk Douglas, he changed his name. John Wayne was even christened Marion, for chuff’s sake. Which is probably one of the reasons why you can really relate to Liam Neeson in the ‘Taken’ films. He’s called Brian Mills. You probably know a Brian Mills yourself. I know a couple of Brians and I live in Denmark, for goodness’ sake. But Cassiopea? No. And I sure as hell can’t imagine knowing any one with even a nickname of ‘Cotton’. I can’t take seriously anyone who even seems to be called ‘Cotton’ by his own father.

And it’s long, way too long.

OK, maybe the next one will be the one…

You can buy The Charlemagne Pursuit from The Book Depository

Photo of Antarctica by Yuriy Rzhemovskiy on Unsplash

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