I wish I could say I had a blast reading The Columbus Affair by Steve Berry, but unfortunately I did not. Before I elaborate, below is the book summary from Amazon:
He was called by many names—Columb, Colom, Colón—but we know him as Christopher Columbus. Many questions about him exist: Where was he born, raised, and educated? Where did he die? How did he discover the New World?
None have ever been properly answered.
And then there is the greatest secret of all.
From Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author, comes an exciting new adventure—one that challenges everything we thought we knew about the discovery of America.
Pulitzer Prize–winning investigative journalist Tom Sagan has written hard-hitting articles from hot spots around the world. But when a controversial report from a war-torn region is exposed as a fraud, his professional reputation crashes and burns. Now he lives in virtual exile—haunted by bad decisions and the shocking truth he can never prove: that his downfall was a deliberate act of sabotage by an unknown enemy. But before Sagan can end his torment with the squeeze of a trigger, fate intervenes in the form of an enigmatic stranger with a request that cannot be ignored.
Zachariah Simon has the look of a scholar, the soul of a scoundrel, and the zeal of a fanatic. He also has Tom Sagan’s estranged daughter at his mercy. Simon desperately wants something only Sagan can supply: the key to a 500-year-old mystery, a treasure with explosive political significance in the modern world. For both Simon and Sagan the stakes are high, the goal intensely personal, the consequences of opposing either man potentially catastrophic. On a perilous quest from Florida to Vienna to Prague and finally to the mountains of Jamaica, the two men square off in a dangerous game. Along the way, both of their lives will be altered—and everything we know about Christopher Columbus will change.
I don't have a lot of experience within the historical thriller genre, so I thought this one might be a good one to start with. The premise is definitely interesting, and I'll admit the story is based on a pretty cool idea. And for the first 25% of the book, I was mostly enjoying it. I thought the setup of the novel worked well, and kept me interested. And most of the historical information was new to me...though being new to this genre, I don't know how much of the history was true, and how much was "massaged" to fit the main plot of the story (Columbus's real purpose for sailing west 500+ years ago). I would like to know how much of the history presented in the book was true..most? Half? Just a little bit? Note that while I am curious about this aspect, it had nothing to do with my enjoyment of the story.
There were 2 main things I struggled with in this book: the historical infodumps, and the characters. The truth (or not) of the historical info didn't bother me, but the frequent history dumps did bother me. For me, it totally killed the pacing of the book. Having not read this subgenre before, I'm not sure if this is typical or not. I plan to read a James Rollins books soon-ish for a comparison. It seemed like every time the pace picked up, and I started feeling the tension build, it would get interrupted by a history lesson. Bummer. Again I was intrigued by the plot, and liked how it revolved around Columbus. I just wish the history elements had been worked in without feeling like it was constantly interrupting the story.
Second, I didn't really care about any of the characters. There are a few POV characters, so it was nice to get several angles on the story. Unfortunately, I connected with none of them. The main character, Tom, seems to be the guy we should like. But the story opens with him attempting suicide. As the story unfolds, we found out the truth about his past. But since I was so apathetic to him, I had trouble finding much sympathy for him. I couldn't find anything likeable to grab onto in any of the characters. Thus, while I enjoyed how the different POV characters shed light on the story, I wasn't looking forward to the POV switch to any particular character. In other words, the only thing I had to look forward to was watching the story onfold. Yeah, that is an important element of enjoying a book, but equally important is enjoying the journey with characters you come to care about it. And that was missing for me.
I hate that this review sounds so negative, as I did enjoy it somewhat...and would classify it as an ok read. It just had the potential to be so much more. I think I could have overlooked the history dumps, if I had cared about any of the characters. I will say that I appear to be in the minority on this one so far, as the book has a 4.3 average on Amazon thus far. If you visit the author's page for the book here, there is a link for an extract and you can see what you think.
EDIT: Ignore the "what is fact or fiction" stuff mentioned above. If I had just flipped a couple of more screens on my Kindle, I would have noticed the author had included an entire section devoted to what is true and what is fiction. No idea how I could have missed that.