The Omega Factor
Barnes & Noble
The Ghent Altarpiece is the most violated work of art in the world. Thirteen times it has been vandalized, dismantled, or stolen.
Why? What secrets does it hold?
Enter UNESCO investigator, Nicholas Lee, who works for the United Nations’ Cultural Liaison and Investigative Office (CLIO). Nick’s job is to protect the world’s cultural artifacts—from countless lesser-known objects to national treasures.
When Nick travels to Belgium for a visit with a woman from his past, he unwittingly stumbles on the trail of the twelfth panel for the Ghent Altarpiece, stolen in 1934 under cover of night and never seen since. Soon Nick is plunged into a bitter conflict, one that has been simmering for nearly two thousand years. On one side is the Maidens of Saint-Michael, les Vautours, Vultures, a secret order of nuns and the guardians of a great truth. Pitted against them is the Vatican, which has wanted for centuries to both find and possess what the nuns guard. Because of Nick the maidens have finally been exposed, their secret placed in dire jeopardy—a vulnerability that the Vatican swiftly moves to exploit utilizing an ambitious cardinal and a corrupt archbishop, both with agendas of their own.
From the tranquil canals of Ghent, to the towering bastions of Carcassonne, and finally into an ancient abbey high in the French Pyrenees, Nick Lee must confront a modern-day religious crusade intent on eliminating a shocking truth from humanity’s past. Success or failure—life and death—all turn on the Omega Factor.
"One of the best thrillers of the year"
— Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author
"As always, Berry is in firm command of the material and maintains his equally firm hold on the sub-genre that Dan Brown created with The Da Vinci Code and its sequels. The Omega Factor is every bit the equal of those, a textbook perfect thriller.”
“Lively . . . Berry once again smoothly blends actions and history. Dan Brown fans will want to check this one out.”
— Publisher’s Weekly
“This ancient mystery stuff is new to [Nicholas Lee] and that point of view makes the familiar theme seem fresh to the reader as well. Nick is a good character, with plenty of room to grow. Here’s one vote for Berry making a series out of Nick’s adventures.”
"Narrator Scott Brick captures the high-stakes intensity as the pair uncover a conspiracy that could rock the Catholic Church. Listeners should have no trouble following the many characters and subplots, thanks to Brick's subtle use of accents and tonal changes, and the author's sure-footed execution of this absorbing story.”
— AudioFile (reviewing the audio edition)
"If you love Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code, you’ll want to dive into bestselling author Berry’s latest that mixes history with some serious action. When a UNESCO investigator begins a hunt for the Ghent Altarpiece, stolen in 1934, he finds himself amidst a religious crusade dating back 2,000 years.”
“If anyone is writing the Ludlum-style of espionage thrillers these days, it might be Steve Berry. I mean, even that title sounds like it had to be a Ludlum book . . . I have long been a fan of Berry’s Cotton Malone character and series, and I think this could be the start of another beautiful relationship."
— KTSA (San Antonio, Texas)
“Get ready for a load of history along with adventure.”
— Florida-Times Union
"If you're looking for a good summer read that's part mystery, part treasure hunt, as well as a travelogue through history . . . you might want to check out Steve Berry's new novel The Omega Factor.”
— WSIU (NPR Illinois)
"Quite frankly, you don’t just read a Steve Berry book --- you experience it. His latest, The Omega Factor, is no exception.”
FROM THE BLOG WORLD
"The Omega Factor is a twisting tale of duty, danger, and dogma. Steve Berry blurs the lines of fact and fiction like no one else in the genre. This standalone book is no different. Berry had me second guessing what I thought I knew about the most stolen piece of art in the world, as well as the history of the Catholic church.”
"I’ve been a big fan of Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone series for years. He’s now back with . . . his first stand-alone novel in many years. And it features a great character in Nick Lee, who works for the United Nations UNESCO department. . . . Steve Berry writes great historical fiction action-adventure novels and hopefully at some point he will bring back Nick Lee for more action (he even hints at it in the author notes in the back of the book)."
"I always enjoy when Steve Berry publishes another book, sure to find something entertaining and educational with each story. This was no exception, diving deep into religious history and controversies known to few. Berry extracts these in his narrative and takes the reader on an adventure like no other. Full of history, great characters, and a stellar plot, Berry impresses yet again."
"There is a lot to like in this book . . . [Berry] has hit upon a style that his fans find contagious, and if you have never read any of his books then this might be one to try. As with all of his works, I just shake my head as I am dazzled at his ability to draw me into his plots with history and amazing characters and that’s what makes him one of my favorite authors, and one whose works always top the bestseller lists.”
"Thought-provoking, creative, and suspenseful . . . Overall, The Omega Factor is a unique, mysterious, action-packed thrill ride that grabbed me from the very start and did an excellent job of blending historical facts with compelling fiction.”
Tuesday, May 8th
Nick Lee rushed toward the flames and smoke, growing more concerned by the moment. He’d flown to Ghent to see a memory that had haunted him for a long time, the images of her as crisp and vivid as if from yesterday, not nine years ago. They’d come within a week of marriage, but a life together had not been meant to be. Instead, she chose another path, one that had not, and would never, include him. His words at the time had stalled in his throat. Hers were definitive.
I have no choice.
Which seemed the story of his life.
A volatile mixture of good and bad, pleasure and pain. Right place, wrong time? Definitely. Wrong place, right time?
More than he liked to admit, in fact.
He’d started in the Army as an MP, then tried for the Magellan Billet at the Justice Department but was not offered a position. Instead the FBI hired him, where he stayed five years. Now he worked for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, more commonly known as UNESCO. Part of the U.N. since the beginning, its mission was to advance peace through education, science, culture, and communication. How? Mostly through initiatives like World Heritage Sites, a global digital library, international literacy days, and a thousand other programs designed to promote, preserve, and sustain human culture.
He was employed by a small appendage within that giant beast. The Cultural Liaison and Investigative Office. CLIO. A play off the Greek goddess, Clio, the muse of history. Officially, he was a credentials-carrying, official U.N. representative, which definitely opened doors. In reality he was boots on the ground. Trained eyes and ears. A field operative. Sent where needed to deal with artistic and cultural issues that could not be resolved through conference calls, ceremony, or diplomacy.
Sometimes you just have to kick a little ass, one of his bosses had said.
He’d been there right after ISIL plundered Iraqi churches, museums, and libraries. On site in the Maldives when radicals dynamited Buddhist artifacts. In Timbuktu, after the Battel of Gao, when parts of that ancient city were ravaged by war. His job, first and foremost, was to stop any cultural destruction. But if that wasn’t possible, then he’d deal with the aftermath. He’d come to learn that many so-called cultural purges were simply smoke screens for the hasty acquisition and subsequent sale of precious artifacts. Fanatics weren’t entirely stupid. Their causes needed money. Rare objects could easily be converted to a stream of wealth that was virtually untraceable. No worries about bank accounts being seized or frozen by foreign governments. Just make a deal with reclusive buyers more than willing to supply gold, cryptocurrency, or cash in return for the seemingly unobtainable.
Thankfully, this trip to Belgium did not concern anything threatened, except perhaps his heart. He’d been looking forward to seeing Kelsey again. She was here in Ghent doing what she did best. Art restoration. It had been a mutual love of art that had first drawn them together. Then something wholly unexpected, at least from his point of view, pried them apart. He’d never seen it coming. Should he have?
Hard to say.
Nine years had passed since they last saw one another face-to-face. Their parting had not included any tearful farewells, hugs, handshakes, words of comfort or encouragement. Not even an argument or anger.
Just an end.
One that had left him stunned.
Their communications since had been through social media. Not much. Electronic comments here and there. Just enough to stay in touch. She had her life and he had his, and neither should the two ever mix. He’d many times wondered if maintaining any contact was a good idea, but he’d done nothing to curtail it. Was he a glutton for punishment? Or maybe he just wanted her in his life, however that might be?
Two weeks ago she’d suggested in a Facebook direct message that he come to Ghent. A first. An invitation to visit. Which made him wonder. Good idea? Bad? But once she’d told him what she was working on, he’d decided, what the hell, why not. Now he was here and the building he’d been sent to, per her texted directions, was on fire.
Was she inside?
He ran faster.
He was a few blocks over from the ancient cathedral of Saint Bavo on a darkened street amidst Ghent’s old town. All of the buildings around him seemed a tribute to Flemish architecture, a gauntlet of brick brownstones with stoops and chimneys. He was not far from the famed Graslie. A stunning ensemble of riverside guild houses spanning centuries and styles. Once part of a medieval port, one of the oldest sections in a town dating to the 5th century, it had been a focal point back when Ghent acted as the center of Flanders’ wheat trade. The district now was a touristic hotspot with a high concentration of café patios. He was hoping to have a late supper with Kelsey at one of them after seeing what she’d promised to show him.
The building ahead, ablaze in smoke and fire, rose three stories to a stepped gabled roof, but all of the destruction seemed localized on the ground floor. People had gathered in the narrow street, watching, but no one was moving to help. He ran up and asked if the fire department had been notified. An older woman said in English that a call had been made. He heard sirens in the distance and decided not to wait for their arrival. Instead, he bolted toward the front door in six quick steps and pushed the heavy wooden slab inward.
Intense heat and smoke poured out.
He grabbed a breath and plunged inside a large studio, metal racks of art equipment and supplies lining the walls. Tables filled the center. All consistent with a workshop, where Kelsey had told him she wanted to meet.
But no fire raged here.
“Kelsey,” he called out.
He heard a noise from the next room and headed toward the open door. There, he saw Kelsey engaged in a struggle with another person. The figure was black-clad, the head and face hooded in tight-fitting clothes. It was hard to see much through the smoke, the only light coming from a raging conflagration on the other side of the room which was rapidly burning, the flames crackling and curdling like the sound dried wood made in a hearth.
He moved to help, just as the black figure pushed away and landed a kick to Kelsey’s gut that staggered her back. The attacker used the moment to bend down, grab something, then disappeared into the smoke. He blinked away the burn from his pupils and found Kelsey.
He helped her from the floor, gentle with his touch, and they fled to the room. “You okay?”
Her eyes were red, watery, and wild. Her gaze changed from rage, to fright, to recognition. “Nick.” She coughed out the smoke from her lungs and nodded fast. “I’m fine. Really. I’m okay.”
The curtain of time parted in his mind. It was like nine years ago again, and that familiar connection clicked. But he forced his thoughts to the present. “We have to get out of here.”
She shook her head. “I have to stop the fire.”
“Help is on the way. They’ll do it. Let’s go.”
She would not budge. “Nick, go after her—”
Two policemen burst into the room.
“I’m okay,” Kelsey said. “Get my laptop back.”
One of the uniforms came close to help, the other wielded a fire extinguisher which he began to use on the flames.
“Please,” she said. “Go.”
Part of him said to stay and make sure she was okay.
But another part knew what Kelsey wanted.
And it wasn’t comfort or protection.
So he hustled off into the smoke.