Warsaw Protocol
by Berry, Steve

Priceless religious relics, called the weapons of Christ, are vanishing from their highly protected sanctuaries-stolen, it seems, by a shadowy organization with a dangerous agenda. Cotton Malone, the former U.S. Justice Department operative, is called out of retirement (again) to figure out what's going on, and this time he's faced not only with a powerful adversary, but also with a political scandal involving the president of Poland and information sought by both Russia and the U.S. As usual, Berry balances a historical mystery with present-day intrigue, unfolds the story at a speedy pace, and moves gracefully from one action scene to the next. The Malone series is highly formulaic, yes, and each book follows a familiar format. But if the writing doesn't get in the way of an intriguing story, and the characters are engaging enough to hold our interest, does it matter if the author isn't taking any risks? In this case, especially for Berry's adoring fans, it most definitely does not.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Over the years and a string of best-sellers, Berry has called Dan Brown and raised him, taking the lead in the big-money game of the religious-relic thriller. Copyright 2019 Booklist Reviews.

Holy relics, a salt mine, and treachery feature in this 15th entry in the author's Cotton Malone series (The Malta Exchange, 2019, etc.). Former lawyer and American intelligence officer Cotton Malone is now a bookseller who goes to Bruges, Belgium, for an antiquarian book fair. He's hired by a former boss to steal the Holy Lance, one of the seven "weapons of Christ," or Arma Christi. That is the price of admission to a secret auction, in which various countries will bid on compromising information about Poland's president, Janusz Czajkowski. The point? Czajkowski is an honorable man who will not allow the U.S. to build a missile system on Polish soil, and the EU- and NATO-hating U.S. President Fox is one of several people who want the Polish leader out of the way at all costs. "If I wanted a conscience, I'd buy one," Fox says. Readers will have to pay close attention to suss out the meaning of Czajkowski's Warsaw Protocol because the author hardly hammers it home. But the story is fun regardless, especially with characters like the smart and resourceful Malone and the Polish foreign intelligence officer Sonia D raga, "a fortress, often scaled and assaulted, but never conquered." The complex plot leads to a magnificent Polish salt mine (a real place) that's hundreds of meters deep with nine layers, has hundreds of miles of tunnels, brine lakes people can't sink in, and lots of tourists. Berry builds suspense nicely, allowing readers to anticipate the violence that eventually comes. To a great extent, the novel is a richly detailed homage to Poland, its culture, and its ability to survive so many invasions over the centuries. The connection between Arma Christi and an unwanted American missile system feels a wee bit iffy, but at least the latter won't be called the Holy Lance. An enjoyable read. Berry's fans won't be disappointed. Copyright Kirkus 2019 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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