Steve Berry has acquired a formidable reputation within the relatively short space of three novels. His latest work, THE TEMPLAR LEGACY, introduces readers to Cotton Malone, a former covert agent of the U.S. Justice Department.
The history of the rise and fall of the Templars, from a force created for the protection of Christian pilgrims to a society whose wealth and power equaled (and perhaps threatened) that of the Roman Catholic Church that they purportedly served, is fascinating even as it is shrouded in mystery. The primary questions about the Templars that have yet to be answered are: 1) How did the organization manage to acquire the power that it did? and 2) What happened to its much-rumored treasure, which was seemingly lost forever when the Templars experienced a rough disbanding at the hands of an alliance of convenience between church and state? Berry sends Malone on a wild chase to connect the dots in a tale that is equal parts cerebral and cataclysmic.
Malone finds himself drawn into the pursuit of the Templar legacy when what was supposed to be a visit with Stephanie Nelle, his former supervisor at Justice, turns into a purse snatching that ends when the perpetrator, after being cornered, commits suicide. It develops that the would-be thief is after a notebook of Nelle's late and estranged husband that has passed into her possession under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Nelle's husband had become famous writing a number of speculative works concerning European mysteries of the 14th century, including the disappearance of the Templar fortune. His notebooks and a seemingly innocuous manuscript appear to hold the key to the ultimate location of the treasure trove.
Malone and Nelle are in competition with others in a race to the treasure --- a race that includes the modern-day leader of the Templars, an organization that has continued to exist quietly, biding its time. Malone gets some assistance from unexpected sources, including an exotic and capable Moslem beauty with an agenda of her own and a Templar monk whose destiny appears to be forewritten in prophecy. As they draw closer to unearthing the treasure, however, Malone finds that the number of people whom he can fully trust becomes fewer and fewer, even as the path to the treasure, and the Templar legacy, grows more dangerous.
Berry has created a likable, capable, and ultimately believable character in Malone, one who is perhaps more competent cerebrally than physically, though he certainly is no slouch in either department. Malone's de facto alter ego --- after cashing in his retirement, he owns and operates a bookstore in Denmark --- is both intriguing and intrinsically ironic, a status quo that hopefully will be retained in future novels. THE TEMPLAR LEGACY thus simultaneously serves as Malone's introduction and keeps Berry's string of winning novels intact.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 23, 2011