(The Sinai Desert, the possible location of the lost Library of Alexandria, Egypt)
What if the biblical basis for the Israeli state was incorrect? What if the real evidence for the creation of the Jewish state was in western Saudi Arabia? What if the ancient translations that led to the writing of the Old Testament from old Hebrew and Greek were open to an interpretation that could destabilize both Israel and Saudi Arabia and reorient the geopolitics of the Middle East? Intertwine the writings of St. Augustine and St. Jerome; add some nefarious characters that would stand to enhance their power and monetary profit, and sprinkle in American politics and you have the basic premise of Steve Berry’s novel, THE ALEXANDRIA LINK.
The book is part of Berry’s series featuring Cotton Malone, a retired member of the U.S. Justice Department’s elite Magellan Billet who lives in Copenhagen and operates a bookstore. The story begins with a scene from April, 1948, when the British gave up their mandate over Palestine realizing that they no longer have the power to broker a peace between the Arabs and Jews. We meet George Haddad, a nineteen year old Palestinian who grows frustrated interrogating a man who had come to speak with his father. The man came with ideas pertaining to a peace settlement, but two weeks before the man’s visit his father had been killed. Haddad was in no mood to chat with another peace messenger in the midst of the nakba, “the catastrophe,” and executed his prisoner.
The novel quickly shifts to contemporary Copenhagen where Cotton Malone is confronted by his estranged wife, Pam informing him that their son Gary was kidnapped. The ransom for Gary’s release is the “Alexandria Link,” something only Malone and a few others have knowledge of. The result is a bombing of Malone’s bookstore and violent confrontation that leads to Gary’s release. Despite this release the plot begins to further evolve as Malone realizes that he must uncover the “Alexandria Link,” which is the location of an ancient Egyptian library supposedly located in Alexandria. According to George Haddad, now a grown man, a philosopher and theologian, within the library lays evidence that God’s covenant with Israel delineated in the Bible may be mistaken. The Israeli and Saudi governments do not want this information to become public knowledge and their security services work to block any progress in discovering the library and its artifacts. In the United States the Vice President is allied with a European syndicate, called the Order of the Golden Fleece, whose chair, Alfred Hermann is determined to destabilize the Mideast for the economic and political benefit of his cabal.
The plot brings Malone from Copenhagen, to London, Lisbon, the Sinai with his new companion his ex-wife Pam. Characters from previous novels have major roles; Henrik Thorvaldsen, a Jewish Danish billionaire and close friend of Malone; Stephanie Nelle his former boss in the Justice Department; and Cassiopeia Vitt, an art historian and well trained in the military arts. New additions include the previously mentioned Alfred Hermann; Dominick Sabre, an operative hired by Hermann who later in the book goes by the alias James McCollum who has his own agenda when it comes to the “Alexandria Link;” Larry Daley, a presidential advisor with his own plans; Attorney-General Brent Green who seems to support a number of positions; and President Robert Edward Daniels, Jr.
As with all of Berry’s novels in the Malone series the reader must pay careful attention as the author integrates legitimate, theoretical, and counter-factual history with contemporary events and politics. Historical figures permeate the narrative as they are interwoven to support or discredit what the fictional characters deem important. The plot line concerns power politics and wealth but Berry tries to base much of his action on uncovering “knowledge” as a weapon in the geopolitics of the Middle East. In this case the knowledge rests on the concept that God’s promise to Abraham for a Jewish homeland in Canaan as written in the Torah is not accurate, thereby debunking the major argument in the Jewish religion for Israel’s existence.
As the story progresses we witness Mossad agents enter and leave. Further an assassination plot to remove the President of the United States seems to be on the table. A proposed deal between al-Qaeda and elements in Washington is in place. Saudi assassins seem to appear everywhere. There is even an interesting visit by David Ben-Gurion to the Alexandria library and a host of other interesting historical occurrences that may or may not have ever occurred. Thankfully Berry provides an addendum at the end of the book to inform the reader as to what he has made up and what actually took place. But what cannot be denied is that he has chosen a topic that has tremendous relevance to current geopolitics in the Middle East. There is no doubt that the books opening scene displaying the hatred between Palestinians and Jews still remains in place today. All we have to do is point to the events of last summer between Israel and Hamas. Though a very good yarn, Berry does provide some important contemporary issues to contemplate.
Berry has written numerous historical novels and though I have only read three, I look forward to continuing to explore his Cotton Malone series as they are interesting, educational, and very entertaining.