Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


The Venetian Betrayal by Steve Berry




(Mildly Recommended)




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Steve Berry’s third novel to feature Cotton Malone the former agent, current bookseller, turned temporary hero, is titled, The Venetian Betrayal. Berry continues to do well with plot, and with the pseudo-historical genre, along the lines of The DaVinci Code. Berry’s character development remains weak, the dialogue rarely sounds like real people, and the action moves from the explosive to the implausible and back to the explosive, as a bad bully tries to do bad things and the good bullies have to make everything right again. In The Venetian Betrayal, much attention is paid to Alexander the Great: where he is buried, and what secrets may be uncovered by finding his remains. Malone is accompanied by a cast of familiar characters from previous novels. Here’s an excerpt, all of Chapter Four, pp. 21-23, featuring the bad bully, Irina Zovastina:



Supreme Minister Irina Zovastina stroked the horse and prepared herself for the game. She loved to play, just after dawn, in the breaking light of early morning, on a grassy field damp with dew. She also loved the famed, blood-sweating stallions of Fergana, first prized over a millennia ago when they were traded to the Chinese for silk. Her stables contained over a hundred steeds bred both for pleasure and pol­itics.

Are the other riders ready>" she asked the attendant.

"Yes, Minister. They await you on the field."

She wore high leather boots and a quilted leather jacket over a long chapan. Her short, silver-blond hair was topped by a fur hat fashioned from a wolf she'd taken great pride in killing. "Let's not keep them wait­ing

She mounted the horse.

Together, she and the animal had many times won buzkashi. An an­cient game, once played across the steppe by a people who lived and died in the saddle. Genghis Khan himself had enjoyed it. Then, women were not even allowed to watch, much less participate.

But she'd changed that rule.

The spindly-legged, broad-chested horse stiffened as she caressed his neck. "Patience, Bucephalas.

She'd named him after the animal that had carried Alexander the Great across Asia, into battle after battle. Buzkashi horses, though, were special. Before they played a single match years of training accustomed them to the game's chaos. Along with oats and barley, eggs and butter were included in their diet. Eventually, when the animal fattened, he was bridled and saddled and stood in the sun for weeks at a time, not just to burn away excess kilos, but to teach him patience. Even more training came in close-quarter galloping. Aggression was encouraged, but always disciplined so that horse and rider became a team.

"You are prepared?" the attendant asked. He was a Tajik, born among the mountains to the east, and had served her for nearly a decade. He was the only one she allowed to ready her for the game.

She patted her chest. "I believe I'm properly armored."

Her fur-lined leather jacket fit snugly, as did the leather pants. It had served her well that nothing about her stout frame was particularly feminine. Her muscular arms and legs bulged from a meticulous exer­cise routine and a rigid diet. Her wide face and broad features carried a hint of Mongol, as did her deep-set brown eyes, all thanks to her mother, whose family traced their roots to the far north. Years of self-imposed discipline had left her quick to listen and slow to speak. En­ergy radiated from her.

Many had said that an Asian federation was impossible, but she'd proven them all wrong. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Karakal­pakstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan were no more. Instead, fifteen years ago, those former Soviet republics, after briefly trying indepen­dence, merged into the newly formed Central Asian Federation. Nine and a half million square kilometers, sixty million people, a massive stretch of territory that rivaled North America and Europe in size, scope, and resources. Her dream. Now a reality.

"Careful, Minister. They like to best you."

She smiled. "Then they better play hard."

They conversed in Russian, though Dari, Kazakh, Tajik, Turkmen, and Kyrgyz together were now the official Federation languages. As a compromise to the many Slays, Russian remained the language of "in­terethnic communication."

The stable doors swung open and she gazed out onto a flat field that stretched for over a kilometer. Toward its center, twenty-three mounted horsemen congregated near a shallow pit. Inside lay the boz‑a goat's carcass, without a head, organs, or legs, soaked in cold water for a day to give it strength for what it was about to endure.

At each end of the field rose a striped post.

The horsemen continued to ride. Chopenoz. Players, like herself. Ready for the game.

Her attendant handed her a whip. Centuries ago they were leather thongs tied to balls of lead. They were more benign now, but still used not only to spur a horse but to attack the other players. Hers had been fashioned with a beautiful ivory handle.

She steadied herself in the saddle.

The sun had just topped the forest to the east. Her palace had once been the residence of the khans who ruled the region until the late nineteenth century, when the Russians had invaded. Thirty rooms, rich in Uzbek furniture and Oriental porcelain. What was now the stables had then housed the harem. Thanks to the gods those days were over.

She sucked a deep breath, which carried the sweet scent of a new day.

"Good playing," the attendant said.

She acknowledged his encouragement with a nod and prepared to enter the field.

But she could not help wondering.

What was happening in Denmark?


The 500 tedious pages of The Venetian Betrayal don’t require much thinking on the part of the reader. Once boredom arrives, Berry switches the action to another location or time. This may be a fine choice for vacation, or on a long flight.


Steve Hopkins, March 21, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

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