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by Steve Berry
Soho, February 2020
384 pages
ISBN: 1250140307

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Malone must steal a religious artifact to get into a sale of damning political information that could destabilize modern Poland and change the balance of power in the world.

Steve Berry's 15th Cotton Malone novel begins with the thefts of a number of the Arma Christi artifacts connected to the crucifixion of Christ. With this clever device, Berry is able to introduce us to a historical fact that few of us would know about. And Berry is nothing if not a history buff. THE WARSAW PROTOCOL is full of intriguing historical information, something I am sure his devoted readers love.

Cotton Malone is an interesting protagonist, officially retired from the U.S. Justice department, now a rare book dealer in Copenhagen, whose most interesting character trait is his eidetic, or photographic memory. He travels all over the globe and we find him in Bruges visiting the church when one of the Arma Christi (a cloth steeped in Christ's blood) is grabbed. He gives chase to the thieves and he finds himself once again caught up in a crime or crimes against the state, although which state remains to be seen. And once again he is recruited by the Justice Department and learns that the balance of power in the world is threatened when Russia wants to place missile sites on Polish territory.

Malone decides to steal one of the Arma Christi when he discovers that an auction of secret Polish information will take place in Slovakia in several days. For the US to get in, he will need one of the Arma Christi. The only artifact left is the Spear of St Maurice that resides in Wawel Castle in Krakow. Has he been set up by Sonia Draga, a Polish secret service agent? Luckily he remembers all the details of the castle and manages the first of his great escapes.

The reader learns a great deal about Poland, particularly during the rule of the Polish Communists, who managed to recruit most of the members of Solidarity to act as informers, by the most horrific means. And the reader begins to understand why the current president is under threat at the upcoming sale of secret information.

The U.S. is lucky to have Cotton on board, as he cleverly inserts himself in the mazes of Poland, particularly a gigantic ancient salt mine, with at least nine levels, where salt carvings figure at each turn. As the plot thickens and the thrills multiply, the reader is taken through everything that haunts Poland, including its proximity to Russia, its role in ancient Christianity, its Communist past, and the many times when it has been broken up and then restored in some manner or other.

Complexity reigns in THE WARSAW PROTOCOL, as the book moves through how all of the above could influence not only present day Poland, but could threaten the stability of the whole world.

I love chase scenes and Berry provides the most exciting and complicated that I have read for a long time. So the history lessons about a country that most of us know little about, and Cotton Malone's ability to find his way through all the mazes in Poland will remain with me for a long time.

Susan Hoover is a playwright, independent producer and retired college English teacher. She lives in Nova Scotia.

Reviewed by Susan Hoover, February 2020

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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