book reviews / thrillers

Book Review: The Columbus Affair

The Columbus AffairThe Columbus Affair

by Steve Berry

I like historic fiction and thrillers, so Steve Berry’s The Columbus  Affair (Ballantine Books 2012) seemed perfect. Not only did it cover a segment of history I’ve spent virtually no time at all thinking (much less reading) about, I’m always looking for new authors (I read 1-3 books a week) and Berry has thirteen out. Thirteen! That would get me through over a month!–if Columbus Affair worked out.

This is the story of a damaged Pulitzer Prize winning journalist moments from committing suicide when he gets the chance to end his life on a high note: Save his estranged daughter from unspeakable horror. This would give meaning to what had become a worthless existence, and he agrees to postpone ending his life long enough to rescue his child. From that moment, he enters a world of religious zealots, long-buried historic events surrounding Christopher Columbus, international criminals, CIA operatives, and a twisted plot that it would take an award-winning investigator (like himself) to unravel.

This is a promising start, but not without its literary problems. For example, the author provides much backstory to share the mysteries surrounding Christopher Columbus. It’s interesting in its own right, but knocks the heck out of the plot’s momentum. Every time, the story gets moving, it falls into a backstory black hole, like a literary stutter. As if this weren’t enough, the pace is also hobbled by the constant scene shifts. They are quick–a couple of pages–but each time, I must re-orient myself before I can enjoy that lovely thriller feeling of being enveloped in another world.

Having said that, the writer is a good storyteller. The characters are nicely constructed and the plot is complex enough to keep the cleverest reader involved. And even by the diverse paradigm of the genre, this one is unusual. Where it abides by the conscripts of a thriller (main character working ever-more-frantically to stop something dramatic from happening), the heroes are not the typical thriller good guys–bigger-than-life, damaged-but-dominant. For the first half the book, it’s hard to find a good guy. Each main character has so many flaws in both morals and motivation, its hard to root for them. Zacharias is charismatic and amoral. Alle has let hate for her father corrupt her soul. And Ben–WYSIWYG–a violent strong man with core beliefs he’s lived by his entire life. Him, readers can respect if not like.

Overall, Berry is a solid writer with a well-researched plot. I think many people will love this book, as much for the fascinating historic details about Columbus as the tightly woven character-driven plot. Just make sure you pay attention.

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-sixth grade, creator of two technology training books for middle school and three ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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