The Columbus Affair, by Steve Berry
Tom Sagan is suicidal.
Tom has lost everything. When he married his wife, he converted from Judaism to Christianity (her religion) and his father stopped speaking to him. When he and his wife divorced, his daughter stopped speaking to him, as well. And eight years ago, he wrote an article that turned out to be a setup. He was getting too inquisitive, so someone set up a phony source, knowing that his refusal to tape his interviews would make it seem as though he made up the story from whole cloth. Once it came out that the source was fake, he lost his job. His ex-wife and father have also died in the intervening time.
Sagan has procured a gun and gone to his father's house to do the act. Just as he is about to pull the trigger, however, he is stopped by a man named Zachariah Simon. Simon has Tom's daughter and will have his henchmen kill her unless Tom has his father's body exhumed.
As Tom finds out upon the exhumation of his father's body, his father had been the last keeper of a secret. Of course, now that Tom knows that the secret exists, his father has become the next-to-last keeper of the secret. What the secret is, Tom has to find out, and he travels from Orlando, Florida to Vienna, Prague, and Jamaica in search of the answers.
There are three intertwined storylines in this book -- Tom's search for the secret his father kept, Simon's plans, and the search of a man named Béne Rowe for a lost gold mine.
This book was another attempt to find a good source of historical mystery and adventure. The history in this book is excellent -- Berry covers copious amounts of history, including some of the history of Judaism, Spain, Prague, Vienna, and Jamaica and so far nearly everything I have researched checks out. The only details that do not necessarily check out is some of the history of Columbus. Much of the descriptions of the voyages checks out. For example, he brought a Hebrew translator, Luis de Torres (born Yosef Ben Ha Levy Havri) with him. Much of his explanation of Columbus's personal background, however, is pure fiction. This should not come as a surprise, since the book opens with the quote from what he referenced as an anonymous observer, but which I was quickly able to find attributed to William F. Keegan of the University of Florida in the March 24, 1991 edition of "VISTA" magazine: "For 500 years there has been only one answer to the question, who was Columbus? That answer is another question. Who do you want him to be?"
While I was very happy with the history, disappointingly, the mystery and adventure is somewhat lacking. In part this is because this book has what the late Roger Ebert termed an "idiot plot." If the characters weren't idiots, there would be no plot. Well, one character in particular is the idiot, who doesn't get on the clue bus until entirely too late in this book.
Additionally, as the climax of the book approaches, the action increases, as it should. However, part of the actiony bits, namely a chase through a cave, was impossible for me to see in my head. Perhaps the chase scene would have gone over better if Berry had included a diagram of the layout of the cave. Additionally, the chase also turns out to be utterly unnecessary for reasons that I will not go into here.
I also have to just scratch the surface of my annoyance at Sagan's daughter's name -- Alle. Alle? I think he was aiming for a creative spelling of "Allie" and missed. He hit the German word for "all" instead. I guess it's a good thing Alle was an only child. If the Sagans had had a son as well, perhaps he would have ended up with the name "Nicht," presumably pronounced like "Nick."
I am severely conflicted about this book. I loved the history and wish there were more fiction where this much detail is given to it. However, from this one example, I think that the running, chasing, and weapons play aspects are not Berry's strong suit. I have one more Berry book to read and review, "The Third Secret," and how I feel about that one will determine whether I give Berry any more of my attention or money in the future.