The Jefferson Key

Cotton Malone Series Book 7

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Four United States presidents have been assassinated—in 1865, 1881, 1901, and 1963—each murder seemingly unrelated and separated by time.

But what if those presidents were all killed for the same reason: a clause in the United States Constitution—contained within Article 1, Section 8—that would shock Americans?

This question is what faces former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone in his latest adventure.  When a bold assassination attempt is made against President Danny Daniels in the heart of Manhattan, Malone risks his life to foil the killing—only to find himself at dangerous odds with the Commonwealth, a secret society of pirates first assembled during the American Revolution. In their most perilous exploit yet, Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt race across the nation and take to the high seas. Along the way they break a secret cipher originally possessed by Thomas Jefferson, unravel a mystery concocted by Andrew Jackson, and unearth a centuries-old document forged by the Founding Fathers themselves, one powerful enough—thanks to that clause in the Constitution—to make the Commonwealth unstoppable.



"Page turner."
—Los Angeles Times


"Steve Berry has crafted a superbly paced novel of mystery and adventure featuring former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone . . . his love of history resonates throughout this lively and imaginative tale."
—Denver Post


"Berry is a master at historical thrillers, arguably the most prolific one out there right now (yes, even better than Dan Brown). He excels at wrapping historical events around a fictional suspense story, giving it a real-life feel that is also educational. . . . The Jefferson Key is one of his best yet and surprisingly, most of it takes place in the United States. . . . Cotton Malone and Cassiopeia Vitt’s adventure along the East Coast, including Canada, is plenty wild, with several surprises. And don’t forget about those greedy pirates."
—Las Vegas Review-Journal


"This highly engrossing thriller by Steve Berry captivates your attention from page 1, bringing together American history, politics, and codes. It throws you into the corrupt and adventurous world of pirates, like nothing has since The Pirates of the Caribbean. The plot is tumultuous, replete with sudden twists and turns, striking characters, and language that has the reader clinging onto every word. This swashbuckling epic is not one to be missed."
—Teen Ink


"As good as it gets."
—Bangkok Post


"Thrillers with historical backdrop are nothing new. But in the hands of Steve Berry, The Jefferson Key feels so fresh and exciting it might as well be the first. The Jefferson Key further solidifies Berry’s status as the modern master of the high-action thriller. Forget Clancy and Cussler. When it comes to this genre, there is simply no one better."


"The plot of The Jefferson Key moves at a very fast clip without any wasted words . . .  a brilliantly told story."
—Ventura County Star (California)


"Veteran thriller author Steve Berry’s new book The Jefferson Key is a combination of historical fact, action-packed fiction, intriguing characters, and a plot that transcends the bounds of time and geography. . . . The Jefferson Key is not a one-dimensional book, which makes it more interesting. In addition to weaving in several subplots, Berry also seamlessly shifts locations and time periods. Fans of the mystery and thriller genres will discover that The Jefferson Key unlocks another interesting chapter in Berry’s literary lineup."
—Our State Magazine (North Carolina)


"Pretzel of a thriller."
—New York Times


"Berry builds on actual historical facts to create a no-holds-barred thriller guaranteed to increase the pulse of the reader. The result educates without being dull. Readers who enjoy nonfiction history tomes will find as much to enjoy in The Jefferson Key as those seeking a roller coaster story line.  Berry should be required reading for Dan Brown fans as well."
—Associated Press


"Ingeniously plotted . . . Berry offers plenty of twists and vivid action scenes in a feast of historical imagination."
—Publisher's Weekly (Starred Review)


"Following his formula, Berry puts his operative, Cotton Malone, in an action-filled plot decorated with plenty of history, including a cipher concocted by Thomas Jefferson. One refreshing element is the women, good and bad, who can hold their own . . . Fast and furious, this entry in the series ends with a fascinating author's note, detailing what's what. Of all the code-and-cipher authors to emerge in the wake of Dan Brown, Berry has been the most successful, commercially and critically."


"You get the feeling Berry would be a history professor if he wasn’t a writer; that’s how much command he wields over his historically-based subject matter that serves up a villainous cadre responsible for all four presidential assassinations. He might not have invented this thriller sub-genre, but he might as well have. Enthralling every step of the way."
—Providence-Journal (selected as one of its Top 5 books for 2011)


"A no-holds-barred thriller (that) mixes American history with page-turning suspense in a delightful concoction."
—Daily Herald (Chicago)


"The Jefferson Key is another "must read." . . . a suspense/historical mystery, with a healthy dose of action, that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Mr. Berry did his research, and wove a fascinating tale around history to give Cotton Malone, Berry’s main character, an adventure in his homeland he will never forget. . . . The Jefferson Key will keep you up until the wee hours of the morning as you read "just one more chapter."
—US Daily Review


The Jefferson Key was the first book I read by Steve Berry, and since finishing yesterday afternoon I have ordered copies of 3 more Berry books. In short, The Jefferson Key is THAT good. Definitely a The Conservative Journal Book Club “Must Read”.
—The Conservative Journal


"One of the most spellbinding and ingenious openings in all of thrillerdom. The cast of characters is huge but every one of them is memorable. The action is intense and masterfully choreographed. As always with Steve Berry, you're educated about significant things while your knuckles are turning white and the pages are flying. Easily Cotton Malone's most epic, swashbuckling adventure."
—David Baldacci, #1 New York Times bestselling writer


"This is original, exciting, and full of action."
—The Oklahoman 


"A chilling book to while away those hot, lazy, hazy hours."
—Ottawa Citizen


"Though Berry is well-loved for featuring international locales in his bestselling historical conspiracy thrillers, this novel, the first set in the United States, will not fail to win over readers looking for a quick-paced read loaded with historical anecdotes and sites. A perfect summer escape."
—Library Journal


"The Jefferson Key starts with a bang and holds the reader in its grip until the last page. Fascinating American history, up-to-the-minute politics, pulse-pounding action. This is a story Mitch Rapp would love."
—Vince Flynn, #1 New York Times bestselling writer


"Steve Berry's latest mixes American history with page-turning suspense in a delightful concoction."
—Richmond Times-Dispatch


"There are double agents, nefarious government organizations, high-tech weapons, abandoned forts, and a secret code created for Jefferson that has baffled cryptographers for centuries. In short, everything you need for a good thriller."
—Florida Times-Union


"For Dan Brown and National Treasure fans. . . oh, and the conspirators are pirates."
—Pacific Northwest Inlander


"Mixing history with adventure in another great read."
The Bookseller (England) 


"The Constitution. . . secret codes . . . loads of history. . . AND pirates! What else does anyone need? The Jefferson Key won't just haunt your nights--it'll haunt your life. Cotton Malone is coming back to the scariest place of all: Home."
—Brad Meltzer, #1 New York Times bestselling writer


"Berry's interest in history provides an interesting background to his intelligent thrillers."
—Weekender (News South Wales)


"The Jefferson Key is Steve Berry at his very best. His writing is assured and exciting. Never does he feel like he is stretching out his plot in order to add volume to the story, each element and action is absolutely necessary. He also manages to combine history with fiction in such a way that it all seems absolutely possible and believable. Steve Berry has always been a popular writer, but this book will raise his reputation to a whole new level. The Jefferson Key is his best book yet and that is saying a lot. It is Berry, Berry good!"
—Huffington Post


"Steve Berry once again does not disappoint."
—Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Virginia)


"Berry builds on actual historical facts to create a no-holds-barred thriller guaranteed to increase the pulse of the reader. The result educates without being dull. …Readers who enjoy nonfiction history tomes will find as much to enjoy in The Jefferson Key as those seeking a roller coaster story line."


"I am going to make a cautious prediction here and say that The Jefferson Key may well be the Thriller of the Year . . . This book has, in a word, everything. The Jefferson Key consists of one of those all-too-rare narratives that is full of substance, yet picks you up and carries you along so quickly that you are almost disappointed when the party --- full of explosions, karate and revelations --- is over. Berry very skillfully makes this happen by way of rapid-fire shifts of scene and point of view, with something important, exciting and/or dangerous happening in each one. There is quite simply no good place to stop reading once you've started. . . . Throw in an ending line that will have those with fertile minds howling, and you have a book that's impossible not to love from first page to last."




"The Jefferson Key is Steve Berry at the height of his writing power. This brilliant novel combines political intrigue, action, adventure, suspense, and more than a smattering of history, which is a Steve Berry trademark. . . . The Jefferson Key is an exciting, suspenseful thrill ride from start to finish, and Cotton Malone and his creator have never been better. It can be read and thoroughly enjoyed as a stand-alone novel, though I’d recommend you read all of the Cotton Malone novels - they’re all great thrillers in every sense of the word."


"Berry gets the details right! The seamless way in which he unveils his accurate portrayal of pirates and privateers easily satisfies pirate enthusiasts. From first page to last, the reader is riveted to the story, wondering how it will unfold and how the characters will resolve the various puzzles. I’ve read all the previous Cotton Malone books, but The Jefferson Key is by far the best in the series and most rewarding."
—Pirates and Privateers


"The Jefferson Key finds itself toeing the line between fantasy and reality more often than not. The 7th installment of the Cotton Malone series keeps you hooked, with each page opening up to a new level of intrigue. The fiction parts are well-written, the nonfiction parts are well-researched, and these 2 worlds are so well-meshed that you’ll find it hard to tell which is which – a definite treat for the senses."


"If you enjoy reading adventure fiction seasoned with history and featuring seemingly indestructible heroes and heroines, you’ll like Steve Berry’s The Jefferson Key.  . . . Berry ably combines lesser-known American history with a fast-paced plot and throws in some political commentary for good measure. This reviewer is hooked for (Cotton Malone) books one through six."


"Steve Berry is a stellar author. In his seventh Cotton Malone novel Berry grabs listeners with a powerful opening.. Then with the ingenuity for which he’s known Berry dives into presidential history by revealing a cipher once in the hands of Thomas Jefferson, utilized by Andrew Jackson, and hidden for 175 years. ..While all will enjoy history buffs in particular will take pleasure in the intriguing twists and turns.."
—Gail Cooke on


"This is a brilliant exhilarating thriller that uses the Constitution and American history to frame a great tale that will have readers hooked throughout . . . Filled with stunning spins to American history, fast-paced from the opening 1835 Jackson assassination attempt to the final denouement, The Jefferson Key will be on the short list for best thriller of the year."
—Harriet Klausner on


"In my estimation, Cotton Malone should go down in history as the literary equivalent of such heroic champions as James Bond, Mack Bolan, and Doc Savage. . . . To those who love exemplary thrillers he is the perfect protagonist. He has a sixth sense for side-stepping trouble and is always one step ahead of his pursuers (even when he appears not to be.) In my opinion, he should be considered one of the most memorable characters of our time. . . . With as memorable, fast-paced, and exciting an opening as I've ever read, The Jefferson Key is another excellent example of a clever plot filled with mystery, intrigue, and action. Berry has the uncanny ability to pull you into the story and not let you back out until the last word. Add an intriguing main character, questionable government activity, loads of action, and a self-serving secret society and you have all the elements of a perfectly crafted thriller."


"The mystery in The Jefferson Key is a thrilling one and the fact that it’s based on real history makes it both fun and intriguing. I thoroughly enjoyed The Jefferson Key and am already anticipating the next Cotton Malone novel. Berry picks such great locations for his novels, and has built such a wonderful cast of characters, I can’t wait to see where they go next. This is a great series that is easy to read and entertaining, and Berry never fails to keep me engaged from one book to the next."


"With as memorable, fast-paced, and exciting an opening as I’ve ever read, The Jefferson Key is another excellent example of a clever plot filled with mystery, intrigue, and action. Berry has the uncanny ability to pull you into the story and not let you back out until the last word. Add an intriguing main character, questionable government activity, loads of action, and a self-serving secret society and you have all the elements of a perfectly crafted thriller."


"Basically, if you enjoyed any of Dan Brown’s novels or the National Treasure movies, you will love The Jefferson Key. It’s gritty, full of suspense and keeps you guessing until the end, just as a good mystery should!  History buffs will also love the interplay between actual events and facts and fiction."


"I thought that Mr. Berry did a commendable job of balancing history with fiction. He wove an intricate web and it made for a great read. I liked this book and have been recommending it to others like I recommend it to you."


"This is a great book and I am saddened that another may be a year away!"


"This was an excellent book. Maybe it's that part of the action happens in locations I'm familiar with. Maybe it's that the subject matter is pretty cool. Either way, I loved this entry in the Cotton Malone series and I'm eagerly looking forward to the next book Berry puts out."





6:13 PM


One mistake was not enough for Cotton Malone.

He made two.

Error number one was being on the fifteenth floor of the Grand Hyatt hotel. The request had come from his old boss Stephanie Nelle, through an email sent two days ago. She needed to see him, in New York, on Saturday. Apparently, the subject matter was something they could discuss only in person. And apparently, it was important. He'd tried to call anyway, phoning Magellan Billet headquarters in Atlanta, but was told by her assistant, "She's been out of the office for six days now on DNC."

He knew better than to ask where.

DNC. Do Not Contact.

That meant don't call me, I'll call you.

He'd been there before himself the agent in the field, deciding when best to report in. That status, though, was a bit unusual for the head of the Magellan Billet. Stephanie was responsible for all twelve of the department's covert operatives. Her task was to supervise. For her to be DNC meant that something extraordinary had attracted her attention.

He and Cassiopeia Vitt had decided to make a New York weekend of the trip, with dinner and a show after he discovered what Stephanie wanted. They'd flown from Copenhagen yesterday and checked into the St. Regis, a few blocks north of where he now stood. Cassiopeia chose the accommodations and, since she was also paying for them, he hadn't protested. Plus, it was hard to argue with regal ambience, breathtaking views, and a suite larger than his apartment in Denmark.

He'd replied to Stephanie's email and told her where he was staying. After breakfast this morning, a key card for the Grand Hyatt had been waiting at the St. Regis' front desk along with a room number and a note.


He'd wondered about the word exactly, but realized his former boss suffered from an incurable case of obsessive behavior, which made her both a good administrator and aggravating. But he also knew she would not have contacted him if it wasn't truly important.

He inserted the key card, noting and ignoring the do not disturb sign.

The indicator light on the door's electronic lock switched to green and the latch released.

The interior was spacious, with a king- sized bed covered in plush purple pillows. A work area was provided at an oak- top desk with an ergonomic chair. The room occupied a corner, two windows facing East 42nd Street, the other offering views west toward 5th Avenue. The rest of the décor was what would be expected from a high- class, Midtown Manhattan hotel.

Except for two things.

His gaze locked on the first: some sort of contraption, fashioned of what appeared to be aluminum struts, bolted together like an Erector Set. It stood before one of the front windows, left of the bed, facing outward. Atop the sturdy metal support sat a rectangular box, perhaps two feet by three, it too made of dull aluminum, its sides bolted together and centered on the window. More girders extended to the walls, front and back, one set on the floor, another braced a couple of feet above, seemingly anchoring the unit in place.

Was this what Stephanie meant when she'd said important?

A short barrel poked from the front of the box. There seemed no way to search its interior, short of unbolting the sides. Sets of gears adorned both the box and the frame. Chains ran the length of the supports, as if the whole thing was designed to move.

He reached for the second anomaly.

An envelope. Sealed. With his name on it.

He glanced at his watch. 6:17 pm.

Where was Stephanie?

He heard the shrill of sirens from outside.

With the envelope in hand, he stepped to one of the room's windows and glanced down fourteen stories. East 42nd Street was devoid of cars. Traffic had been cordoned off. He'd noticed the police outside when he'd arrived a few minutes ago.

Something was happening.

He knew the reputation of Cipriani across the street. He'd been inside before and recalled its marble columns, inlaid floors, and crystal chandeliers a former bank, built in Italian Renaissance style, leased out for elite social gatherings. Just such an event seemed to be happening this evening, important enough to stop traffic, clear the sidewalks, and command the presence of half a dozen of New York City's finest, who stood before the elegant entrance.

Two police cars approached from the west, lights flashing, followed by an oversized black Cadillac DTS. Another New York City police car trailed. Two pennants rose from either side of the Cadillac's hood. One an American flag, the other the presidential standard.

Only one person rode in that car.

President Danny Daniels.

The motorcade wheeled to the curb before Cipriani. Doors opened. Three Secret Service agents sprang from the car, studied the surroundings, then signaled. Danny Daniels emerged, his tall, broad frame sheathed by a dark suit, white shirt, and powder- blue tie.

Malone heard whirring.

His gaze found the source.

The contraption had come to life.

Two retorts banged and the window on the other side of the room shattered, glass plunging downward to the sidewalk seventy-five feet below. Cool air rushed inside, as did the sounds of a pulsating city. Gears spun and the device telescoped through the now empty window frame.

He glanced down.

The window's shattering had attracted the Secret Service's attention. Heads were now angled up, toward the Grand Hyatt.

Everything happened in a matter of a few seconds.

Window gone. Device out. Then-

Rat- tat- tat.

Shots were fired at the president of the United States.

Agents smothered Daniels to the sidewalk.

Malone stuffed the envelope into his pocket and raced across the room, grabbing hold of the aluminum frame, trying to dislodge the device.

But it would not budge.

He searched for and spotted no power cords. The thing, apparently a remote- controlled, high- powered weapon, kept firing. He saw agents trying to maneuver their charge back to the car. He knew that once Daniels was inside, armor plating would provide protection.

The device spit out more rounds.

He dove out the window, balancing himself on the frame, and grabbed hold of the aluminum box. If he could yank it from side to side, or up and down, at least he could deflect its aim.

He managed to force the barrel left, but motors inside quickly compensated.

Below, with incoming fire momentarily deflected, agents stuffed Daniels back into the car, which wheeled away. Three men remained, along with the policemen who'd been waiting at Cipriani.

Guns were drawn.

His second mistake now became evident.

They started firing.

At him.


Also in this series: