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A Novel

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On Sale: December 02, 2008
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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EVENTS EVENTS
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

As a child, former Justice Department agent Cotton Malone was told that his father died in a submarine disaster in the North Atlantic. But what he now learns stuns him: His father’s sub was a secret nuclear vessel lost on a highly classified mission beneath the ice shelves of Antarctica.

Twin sisters Dorothea Lindauer and Christl Falk are also determined to find out what became of their father, who died on the same submarine–and they know something Malone doesn’t: Inspired by strange clues discovered in Charlemagne’s tomb, the Nazis explored Antarctica before the Americans. Now Malone discovers that cryptic journals penned in “the language of heaven,” conundrums posed by an ancient historian, and his father’s ill-fated voyage are all tied to a revelation of immense consequence for humankind. As Malone embarks on a dangerous quest with the sisters, he will finally confront the shocking truth of his father’s death and the distinct possibility of his own.

Excerpt

Chapter One


Garmisch, Germany
Tuesday, December 11, The Present
1:40 pm

Cotton Malone hated enclosed spaces.

His current unease was amplified by a packed cable car. Most of the passengers were on vacation, dressed in colorful garb, shouldering poles and skis. He sensed a variety of nationalities. Some Italians, a few Swiss, a handful of French, but mainly Germans. He’d been one of the first to climb aboard and, to relieve his discomfort, he’d made his way close to one of the frosty windows. Ten thousand feet above and closing, the Zugspitze stood silhouetted against a steel- blue sky, the imposing gray summit draped in a late- autumn snow.

Not smart, agreeing to this location.

The car continued its giddy ascent, passing one of several steel tres­tles that rose from the rocky crags.

He was unnerved, and not simply from the crowded surroundings. Ghosts awaited him atop Germany’s highest peak. He’d avoided this rendezvous for nearly four decades. People like him, who buried their past so determinedly, should not help it from the grave so easily.

Yet here he was, doing exactly that.

Vibrations slowed as the car entered, then stopped at the summit station.

Skiers flooded off toward another lift that would take them down to a high- altitude corrie, where a chalet and slopes waited. He didn’t ski, never had, never wanted to.

He made his way through the visitor center, identified by a yellow placard as MŸncher Haus. A restaurant dominated one half of the building, the rest housed a theater, a snack bar, an observatory, souvenir shops, and a weather station.

He pushed through thick glass doors and stepped out onto a railed terrace. Bracing Alpine air stung his lips. According to Stephanie Nelle his contact should be waiting on the observation deck. One thing was obvious. Ten thousand feet in the high Alps certainly added a height­ened measure of privacy to their meeting.

The Zugspitze lay on the border. A succession of snowy crags rose south toward Austria. To the north spanned a soup- bowl valley ringed by rock- ribbed peaks. A gauze of frosty mist shielded the German vil­lage of Garmisch and its companion, Partenkirchen. Both were sports meccas, and the region catered not only to skiing but also bobsledding, skating, and curling.

More sports he’d avoided.

The observation deck was deserted save for an elderly couple and a few skiers who’d apparently paused to enjoy the view. He’d come to solve a mystery, one that had preyed on his mind ever since that day when the men in uniforms came to tell his mother that her husband was dead.

"Contact was lost with the submarine forty- eight hours ago. We dispatched search and rescue ships to the North Atlantic, which have combed the last known position. Wreckage was found six hours ago. We waited to tell the families until we were sure there was no chance of survivors."

His mother had never cried. Not her way. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t devastated. Years passed before questions formed in his teenage mind. The government offered little explanation beyond official re­leases. When he’d first joined the navy he’d tried to access the court of inquiry’s investigative report on the sub’s sinking, but learned it was classified. He’d tried again after becoming a Justice Department agent, possessed of a high security clearance. No luck. When Gary, his fifteen-year- old, visited over the summer, he’d faced new questions. Gary had never known his grandfather, but the boy had wanted to know more about him and, especially, how he died. The press had covered the sink­ing of the USS Blazek in November 1971, so they’d read many of the old accounts on the Internet. Their talk had rekindled his own doubts– enough that he’d finally done something about them.

He plunged balled fists into his parka and wandered the terrace.

Telescopes dotted the railing. At one stood a woman, her dark hair tied in an unflattering bun. She was dressed in a bright outfit, skis and poles propped beside her, studying the valley below.

He casually walked over. One rule he’d learned long ago. Never hurry. It only bred trouble.

"Quite a scene," he said.

She turned. "Certainly is."

Her face was the color of cinnamon which, combined with what he regarded as Egyptian features in her mouth, nose, and eyes signaled some Middle Eastern ancestry.

"I’m Cotton Malone."

"How did you know I was the one who came to meet you?"

He motioned at the brown envelope lying at the base of the tele­scope. "Apparently this is not a high- pressure mission." He smiled. "Just running an errand?"

"Something like that. I was coming to ski. A week off, finally. Al­ways wanted to do it. Stephanie asked if I could bring"–she motioned at the envelope–"that along." She went back to her viewing. "You mind if I finish this? It cost a euro and I want to see what’s down there."

She revolved the telescope, studying the German valley that stretched for miles below.

"You have a name?" he asked.

"Jessica," she said, her eyes still to the eyepiece.

He reached for the envelope.

Her boot blocked the way. "Not yet. Stephanie said to make sure you understand that the two of you are even."

Last year he’d helped out his old boss in France. She’d told him then that she owed him a favor and that he should use it wisely.

And he had.

"Agreed. Debt paid."

She turned from the telescope. Wind reddened her cheeks. "I’ve heard about you at the Magellan Billet. A bit of a legend. One of the original twelve agents."

"I didn’t realize I was so popular."

"Stephanie said you were modest, too."

He wasn’t in the mood for compliments. The past awaited him. "Could I have the file?"

Her eyes sparked. "Sure."

He retrieved the envelope. The first thought that flashed through his mind was how something so thin might answer so many questions.

"That must be important," she said.

Another lesson. Ignore what you don’t want to answer. "You been with the Billet long?"

"Couple of years." She stepped from the telescope mount. "Don’t like it, though. I’m thinking about getting out. I hear you got out early, too."

As carelessly as she handled herself, quitting seemed like a good ca­reer move. During his twelve years he’d taken only three vacations, during which he’d stayed on constant guard. Paranoia was one of many occupational hazards that came with being an agent, and two years of voluntary retirement had yet to cure the malady.

"Enjoy the skiing," he said to her.

Tomorrow he’d fly back to Copenhagen. Today he was going to make a few stops at the rare- book shops in the area–an occupational hazard of his new profession. Bookseller.

She threw him a glare as she grabbed her skis and poles. "I plan to."

They left the terrace and walked back through the nearly deserted visitor center. Jessica headed for the lift that would take her down to the corrie. He headed for the cable car that would drop him ten thou­sand feet back to ground level.

He stepped into the empty car, holding the envelope. He liked the fact that no one was aboard. But just before the doors closed, a man and woman rushed on, hand in hand. The attendant slammed the doors shut from the outside and the car eased from the station.

He stared out the forward windows.

Enclosed spaces were one thing. Cramped, enclosed spaces were another. He wasn’t claustrophobic. More a sense of freedom denied. He’d tolerated it in the past–having found himself underground on more than one occasion–but his discomfort was one reason why, years ago, when he joined the navy, unlike his father, he hadn’t opted for submarines. "Mr. Malone." He turned. The woman stood, holding a gun. "I’ll take that envelope."
Steve Berry|Author Q&A

About Steve Berry

Steve Berry - The Charlemagne Pursuit

Photo © Kelly Campbell

Steve Berry is the New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author of The Lincoln Myth, The King’s Deception, The Columbus Affair, The Jefferson Key, The Emperor’s Tomb, The Paris Vendetta, The Charlemagne Pursuit, The Venetian Betrayal, The Alexandria Link, The Templar Legacy, The Third Secret, The Romanov Prophecy, and The Amber Room. His books have been translated into 40 languages with more than 17,000,000 copies in 51 countries.
 
History lies at the heart of every Steve Berry novel. It’s this passion, one he shares with his wife, Elizabeth, that led them to create History Matters, a foundation dedicated to historic preservation. Since 2009 Steve and Elizabeth have traveled across the country to save endangered historic treasures, raising money via lectures, receptions, galas, luncheons, dinners, and their popular writers’ workshops. To date, nearly 2,500 students have attended those workshops. In 2012 their work was recognized by the American Library Association, which named Steve the first spokesman for National Preservation Week. He was also appointed by the Smithsonian Board of Regents to serve on the Smithsonian Libraries Advisory Board to help promote and support the libraries in their mission to provide information in all forms to scientists, curators, scholars, students, and the public at large. He has received the Royden B. Davis Distinguished Author Award and the 2013 Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers. His novel The Columbus Affair earned him the Anne Frank Human Writes Award, and his historic preservation work merited the 2013 Silver Bullet from International Thriller Writers.
 
Steve Berry was born and raised in Georgia, graduating from the Walter F. George School of Law at Mercer University. He was a trial lawyer for 30 years and held elective office for 14 of those years. He is a founding member of International Thriller Writers—a group of more than 2,600 thriller writers from around the world—and served three years as its co-president.
 
For more information, visit www.steveberry.org.

Author Q&A

Charlemagne is not an historical subject or character you see in a lot of thrillers, what drew you to him?

The fact that he hasn’t appeared in many thrillers was the main draw. Katherine Neville is the only writer I can recall who’s made good use of him. Charlemagne is fascinating. He ruled for 47 years and lived to be 74 at a time when kings rarely reigned more than 5 years and people died long before age 40. He unified a continent and laid the groundwork for the formation, centuries later, of a modern Europe. Many of his policies and practices became proven models for western law and government. He was a visionary who surrounded himself with smart people and, for the first time, placed the needs of his subjects before royal ambition. He was so progressive that it begs the question–did he have help? Was he privy to special knowledge? Both are interesting questions that spurred my imagination.


The strange writings and the manuscript quoted throughout the book, where did they come from?

I utilized an actual artifact known as the Voynich Manuscript. It’s preserved in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. Supposedly created sometime in the 15th or 16th centuries, its folios are penned in a language that no one has ever been able to decipher. In addition, there are a multitude of colorful, odd drawings filling its pages. By general consensus the Voynich Manuscript is probably an elaborate medieval hoax, designed to fleece a royal patron out of a hefty payment. But no one knows for sure. As is made clear in The Charlemagne Pursuit, writing may well have been the single most important creation of human kind. Once we learned to memorialize our thoughts, in languages that could be understood by others many millennia later, human civilization rose to new levels. The Charlemagne Pursuit explores this phenomena.


Is the concept of a ‘first civilization’ something mainstream 21st century science has embraced?

Not yet, but it’s only a matter of time. The idea that we may not have been the first humans to achieve a level of intellectual sophistication makes sense. Cultures, like plants and animals, and earth itself, all develop, evolve, flourish, then fade into extinction. Our current civilization may only be one link in a long and complicated social chain. Evidence of heretofore unknown neolithic sites are being discovered around the world with startling regularity. Most are underwater, in areas that were dry land before the last Ice Age. And what lies beneath those two miles of Antarctic ice? Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know, but the possibilities are endless.


This is an intensely personal journey for Cotton Malone, was that intentional?

No question. I knew that Cotton confronting what happened to his father would be an emotional experience. For 38 years he’s pondered that situation. Then I came across the book Ice, by Marianna Gosnell, which described the amazing affects of the Antarctic cold. Once I realized what was possible, I increased the intensity of Malone’s journey. As a writer, I struggle with character development. It’s something I work hard to expand. This book, my seventh novel, allowed me an opportunity to expand my craft. This story is much character-driven than the others. I can only hope that reader’s regard my effort as a positive one.


You have some great locales in the story. How many did you actually visit while writing?

I visited the Zugspitze in Bavaria and rode the same cable car 10,000 feet up that Malone finds himself trapped on. I also loitered around the cathedral in Aachen for four days, trying to conjure up the Charlemagne pursuit. Biltmore Estate in Asheville is one of my favorite places. I’ve visited several times, especially at Christmas. As for Antarctica, unfortunately I didn’t make it there (thank goodness the good Lord created National Geographic). My goal is to walk upon all seven continents. I have two to go, one being Antarctica, which is at the top of my must-see list.


Speaking of Antarctica, what about the great secrecy that surrounds the Nazi expedition there in 1938 and the two American missions there in the 1940s?

The Nazis went to scout strategic locations and search for untapped mineral wealth. But they found a continent tough to tame. Great mineral deposits exist, but they are difficult to extract, especially with the state of technology at that time. World War II eventually interfered with Germany returning, though conspiratorialists believe that they did return and established a secret base. Our Operations Highjump and Windmill, which came a decade after, were pure military jaunts. We went to explore, test men and equipment, and learn. Some say we went to find that Nazi base. Much about both of these extensive, cold-weather military operations remain classified to this day, which only encourages speculation as to what might have been encountered.


What’s next for Cotton?

At least two more adventures. One in 2009–another in 2010. I’m writing the 2009 story right now, tentatively called The Paris Club. Hopefully, Cotton Malone will continue to live on for many years after that.


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“[Steve] Berry outdoes himself… [in his] best book to date.”—Library Journal, starred review

“Plenty of classic touch points are in this cliff-hanger: Nazis, secret missions, shootouts, [and] cryptic journals…In Malone, Berry has created a classic, complex hero.”—USA Today

“Action-packed . . . engrossing and suspenseful…another stunning thriller.”—Wichita Falls Times Record News

“A solid action thriller [with] colorful bad guys, likable good guys, and plenty of action scenes.”—Booklist

“[A] hair-raising adventure…Berry has another blockbuster.”—Romantic Times

“Those who relish suspense in the Da Vinci Code vein will snap this one up, the best yet in the series.”—Publishers Weekly,starred review
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Steve Berry - The Charlemagne Pursuit

Photo © Kelly Campbell

9/18/2014 Muskogee Public Library
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