From time to time I am getting back to the kind of books that I loved to read when I was a kid and a teenager, and actually I never stopped loving them. Action books with historic background or even better contemporary adventure books solving enigmas from the past which somehow impact our present. This is a genre which despite the rumors was not invented by Dan Brown (whose books I like very much to the horror of some of my friends) although Brown became kind of the reference for the genre. Even this last book I read has as a banner ‘Berry pulls a Dan Brown, throwing the reader right into the action‘. I guess that when a writer’s name becomes a common name this should be considered a compliment.

source www.bookreporter.com

One can learn about Steve Berry and his books from http://www.steveberry.org/. He is born in 1955, lives in Florida and studied law so no wonder that many of his heroes (as John Grisham’s also a lawyer by formation) come from the same profession. His literary breakthrough came around 2003 and I had read his first novel ‘The Amber Room’ and liked it. ‘The Romanov Prophecy’ is his second.

source georgiacenterforthebook.org

The common thread between the two books is the interest for the 20th century Russian history and especially for the last Czar’s fate and legacy. Steve Berry has done here a good work of documentation, as much of the action is based on the last days of the Czar and of his family, their execution by the Bolsheviks and the legend of the survival of some of the members of the family. Real documents are being brought in the book together with other fictive documents written in the same style. The story is based on a fictive what-if scenario that never happened. Russia tired by the democratic experiments of Yeltsin and Putin votes in a referendum to restore the Czars. A commission is looking for the closest descendants of the Romanov family, and one convenient candidate that would play well in the hands of the Russian mafia, oligarchs and nostalgics of the Communist regime is the favorite. All would play well if a true direct descendant of the last Czar is not found, but of course, things will get much more complicated.

source boston.com

The book was first published in 2004, maybe it was written a few years earlier, and we all know that Russia’s history took a different turn. This does not help with the credibility of the intrigue, one of the required conditions for a successful book in the genre. While having the innocent and unprepared every-day American (you guessed – a lawyer) survive all assassination attempts and fight a small contingent of professional killers is one of the conventions of this kind of books that we learned to live with, there are some other details that are a little bit too round-cornered (for example the absence of mobile phones is not credible in the 2000s of the US and even Russia) and so are the too easy and idealistic references to the Czarist period. “What happened in 1917 was so sad. The country was on the verge of a social renaissance. Poets, writers, painters, playwrights were at their peak. The press was free. Then it all died. Overnight.” says one Russian character (pag. 232).  Well, all died indeed almost overnight, but the situation was far from that ideal even before the Russian Revolution, and any Russian knows it. So, as a reader one needs to accept these historical shortcuts and focus on enjoying the action. The good news is that Steve Berry writes well, builds the tension and keeps the pace as you expect, his characters are maybe not too deep but well sketched and the book is well sized, not too short, not too long so details are not lost. With more luck the future books may go on more credible historic or fantasy paths, so I think that I will give them more chances.