Thinking about Steve Berry’s ‘The Malta Exchange’

Dan Brown’s novel the Da Vinci Code (2003) comes to mind when we discuss mystery/thrillers that simultaneously explore old secrets with the overlay of a present-day fight between good guys and bad guys.

This approach is often said to have originated with Katherine Neville’s The Eight (1988) which was influenced by Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo (1844) and Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1980). The feature films Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and National Treasure (2004) and the Raymond Khoury novel The Last Templar (2005) are part of the same heady mix of present and past intrigues blended together in fiction.

Dan Brown probably trumped everyone else because his subject matter–the possibility of Christ’s marriage and subsequent birth line–mattered a great deal to Catholic and Protestant members of the Christian faith.

So now we come to The Malta Exchange, the 14th instalment of Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone novels that began with The Bishop’s Pawn. The novel focuses on the Catholic Knights Hospitaller, their influence in Malta, their overthrow by Napoleon, and the location of ancient documents that might influence the selection of a new Pope. I’ve found the Cotton Malone novels to be well written and absorbing thrillers.

I had more trouble with The Malta Exchange simply because Malta and the Knights Hospitaller are not (for me) as exciting as other historical intrigues in which the novels of this genre are based. It also seemed to be that Cotton, along with U.S. agent Luke, were not in control of their investigation. They were like corks being tossed around on an angry sea, discovering new information mostly when others deigned to tell them rather than from their own investigative skills.

Fortunately, the author’s note at the end of the book helps sort out the truth from the fiction.


Malcolm R. Campbell’s latest novel is the satire Special Investigative Reporter



12 thoughts on “Thinking about Steve Berry’s ‘The Malta Exchange’

  1. What I find interesting about the Da Vinci Code is that even though the courts said he didn’t plagiarize, he did steal the research. Way before the Da Vinci Code was published, I’d read the real book — well, the nonfiction book — so his story seemed rather boring to me. But obviously, I was in the minority. I’ve read others of this type that were much better, though without the Dan Brown hype.

  2. I love this genre. For once, I am attempting to write in a genre I read, and have been writing a fiercely complicated ‘history and mystery’ for the past decade or so.

    I am hoping to produce a genuinely satisfying addition to the genre. (Despite being told by an editor at one of those ‘five minutes with a professional’ do-dads that a desperate writer such as myself sometimes attends, that the book would be stronger if all the historical information was confined to flashback :-(. ) I read them for the artefacts and the history. So, for me, the ancient mystery has to be intriguing and plausible and important. I find Dan Brown’s books scamper along, although I felt that – for this reader – he relied too much on gruesomeness in the modern part of the stories.

    DB’s Da Vinci Code was certainly based on ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’, and the authors of the latter certainly sued. But had DB not used their book heavily in his fictional version theirs would doubtless have been confined to the realms of the ‘crank’ theories such as Von Daniken’s about ancient South American civilisations and John Mitchell’s ‘The View Over Atlantis’ (of which I still have a copy). All, I see, are still in print. But HBHG now has a rather better reputation than it would otherwise have enjoyed. So all sell loadsa books and make loadsa money. A carefully calculated legal action. Good luck to ’em all.

  3. I should’ve added that I don’t seem to have Steve Berry on my shelf of ‘books like wot I am writing’ and shall, in anticipation of a pleasurable read, order up the first one right away.

    1. I read HBHG when it first came out because I read books like that (beginning, perhaps, with “The Morning of the Magicians”). The notion that Mary Magdalene was more than we’ve been told, resonated with me. (The Church later confessed that they made up the entire prostitute thing.) Later I read Margaret Starbird’s work and felt even stronger about MM’s real place in the story.

      Meanwhile, best of luck adding your signature-work-in-progress to the bestseller list.

  4. I’m a big fan of Mary Magdalene too. And trying to pick what may be historical fact from the accounts of JC created by later fans for propaganda purposes.

    A novel about that is another twinkle in my authorial eye. I’ve written one chapter, which looks at why Judas might have done what he did. But despite works like HBHG it is still difficult to get a real sense of The Magdalene in the way I was able to about Judas.

  5. Thank you, Malcolm. I shall have a look at both of those books. I’ve just uploaded my tax return – whoopee – and can now turn my mind to creative things for 2020.

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