Cotton Malone, now retired from the Justice Department, is taking his son to Denmark for a getaway when his former boss calls in a favor and asks him to escort a fugitive from the U.S. to London. The fugitive, a young pickpocket, has a thumb drive, something he stole from a man seconds before that man met his death on a train track. Now Cotton and his son Gary are caught in the middle, as competing parties struggle to obtain the thumb drive, which contains a decoded journal written by Robert Cecil, advisor to Elizabeth I.
Meanwhile, Scotland is releasing the convicted Lockerbee bomber al-Megrahi (killer of over one hundred Americans on Pan Am Flight 103) for humanitarian reasons, despite Washington’s vocal protests. The Americans are now in London, pursuing Operation King’s Deception, an elaborate plot to uncover a 400-year old secret they believe is proven by Cecil’s journal: that Elizabeth I was in fact not a woman at all but rather a male stand-in, someone put in place by handlers to hide the untimely death of the real Princess Elizabeth. It is hoped that if these facts can be proven, they can be used by the Americans to embarrass and/or blackmail the British into halting Megrahi’s release. The secret, if true, might hold more weight than one would initially think, with present-day legal ramifications if it turns out that the land grants made by Elizabeth I (particularly those given to British citizens in Northern Ireland) were not made by the rightful monarch after all. Malone, his son, and the pickpocket are caught in the middle of a battle between international intelligence organizations, one trying to protect its national heritage and the other trying to stop the release of a convicted terrorist.
With clear echoes of Dan Brown’s mysterious secret societies, Berry weaves a tale of espionage, murder, intrigue, and history. One has to admit that Berry’s story is nothing if not unique. Connecting the CIA and MI6 with Elizabeth I and Libyan terrorists within one book is creative by any standards. A typical spy thriller, King’s Deception is fast-paced, with numerous characters, subplots, and locations.
Historians and Tudor fans will bristle at Berry’s suggestion that the reign of Elizabeth I was an elaborate fraud. I am inclined to allow authors plenty of leeway to create their stories (after all, Elizabeth is long gone and no author or historian “owns” her story), but I think that artistic license is nothing when compared to the novel’s biggest issue: the premise that the Americans would use this “ancient secret” as blackmail, forcing the British to block al-Megrahi’s release. Berry does make a good case that land deeds made over 400 years ago by Elizabeth I in Ireland could have an impact on today’s politics. If those deeds were now considered null and void, it would provide the Irish Catholics with the ammunition they have long wanted to expel the British from Northern Ireland. Yet any way you look at it, it’s an enormous stretch to presume that any secret about Elizabeth I, if conclusively proven (which, let’s be honest, is impossible without digging up the late queen’s grave), would be anything more than momentarily awkward for modern Brits. Certainly, the secret is shaky as the foundation for international blackmail.
If you can get past the fantastic premise, which I admit is difficult to do, Berry’s story is action-packed and as I already mentioned, extremely imaginative. If Berry could have come up with another secret, any secret that held more weight than the remote possibility that Elizabeth I’s reign was a hoax, then I think this story would be much stronger. But because this “secret” is so improbable and so far in the past, it unfortunately discounts the rest of the book, which otherwise remains a decent thriller.
Amazon link for the book is here.