"An exciting paradigm of historical imagination coupled with thrilling adventure."
Reviewed by Tanzey Cutter
Posted April 3, 2012
Renowned investigative journalist Tom Sagan's reputation
and life is in shambles after one of his cutting-edge
reports was exposed as a fraud. He knows he was setup, but
there is no way he can prove it. Just as Tom is prepared to
end it all, a mysterious stranger intrudes with a
Enigmatic and scholarly Zachariah Simon is many things to
different people, but dangerous best describes him in this
circumstance, since Simon has Tom's estranged daughter
under his control. Simon is seeking the key to a 500-year-
old mystery concerning Christopher Columbus, and Simon has
learned that Tom is the one who can provide it. Even though
Tom has no idea what Simon is referring to, he has no
choice but to go along with him. The perilous pursuit takes
them around the world, with each new clue leading to yet
another clue and involving even more dangerous people along
Skipping between the present-day quest to the past
adventures of Columbus makes for enlightening historical
reading, as well as speculative insights and conclusions.
The opening quote in this book sets a perfect stage for
this thrilling historical adventure. "For 500 years
historians have pondered the question: Who was Christopher
Columbus? The answer is simply another question: Who do you
want him to be?" NYT bestselling author Steve
Berry's historical research is extensive and his
ability to then write an absorbing and compelling story is
exemplary. One of the best thrillers I've read this year!
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
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.
Tom Sagan gripped the gun. He'd thought about this
moment for the past year, debating the pros and cons,
finally deciding that one pro outweighed all cons.
He simply did not want to live any longer.
He'd once been an investigative reporter for the Los
Angeles Times, knocking down a solid six figure salary, his
marquee by-line generating one front page, above-the-fold
story after another. He'd worked all over the
world—Sarajevo, Beijing, Johannesburg, Belgrade, and
Moscow. But the Middle East became his specialty, a place
he came to know intimately, where his reputation had been
forged. His confidential files were once filled with
hundreds of willing sources, people who knew he'd protect
them at all costs. He'd proved that when he spent eleven
days in a D.C. jail for failing to reveal his source on a
story about a corrupt Pennsylvania congressman.
That man had gone to prison.
Tom had received his third Pulitzer nomination.
There were twenty-one awarded categories. One was
for ‘distinguished investigative reporting by an individual
or team, reported as a single newspaper article or a
series.' Winners received a certificate, $10,000, and the
ability to add three precious words—Pulitzer Prize
winner—to their name.
He won his.
But they took it back.
Which seemed the story of his life.
Everything had been taken back.
His career, his reputation, his credibility, even his
self respect. In the end he became a failure as a son, a
father, a husband, a reporter, and a friend. A few weeks
ago he'd charted that spiral on a pad, identifying that it
all started when he was twenty-five, fresh out of the
University of Florida, top third in his class, a journalism
degree in hand.
Then his father disowned him.
Abiram Sagan had been unrelenting.
"We all make choices. Good. Bad. Indifferent. You're
a grown man, Tom, and have made yours. Now I have to make
And that he had.
On that same pad he'd jotted down the highs and lows.
Some from before, as editor of his high school paper and
campus reporter at college. Most after. His rise from a
news assistant, to staff reporter, to senior international
correspondent. The awards. Accolades. Respect from his
peers. How had one observer described his style? Wide-
ranging and prescient reporting conducted at great personal
Then, his divorce.
The estrangement from his only child. Poor investment
decisions. Even poorer life decisions.
Finally, his firing.
Eight years ago.
And the seemingly nothing life since.
Most of his friends were gone. But that was as much his
fault as theirs. As his personal depression had deepened
he'd withdrawn into himself. Amazing he hadn't turned to
alcohol or drugs, but neither had ever appealed to him.
Self pity was his intoxicant.
He stared around at the house's interior.
He'd decided to die, here, in his parents' home.
Fitting, in some morbid way. Thick layers of dust and a
musty smell reminded him that for three years the rooms had
sat empty. He'd kept the utilities on, paid the meager
taxes, and had the lawn cut just enough so the neighbors
wouldn't complain. Earlier, he'd noticed that the
sprawling mulberry tree out front needed trimming, the
picket fence painting.
He hated it here. Too many ghosts.
He walked the rooms, remembering happier days. In the
kitchen he could still see jars of his mother's jam that
once lined the windowsill. The thought of her brought a
wave of an unusual joy that quickly faded.
He should write a note and explain himself, blame
somebody or something. But to who? Or what? Nobody would
believe him if he told them the truth. Unfortunately, just
like eight years ago, there was no one to blame but
Would anyone even care he was gone?
Certainly not his daughter. He'd not spoken to her in
His literary agent? Maybe. She'd made a lot of money
off his ghostwriting. He'd been shocked to learn how many
so-called bestselling fiction writers could not write a
word. What had one critic said at the time of his
downfall? Journalist Sagan seems to have a promising
career ahead of him writing fiction.
But he'd actually taken that advice.
He wondered—how does one explain taking their own
life? It's, by definition, an irrational act. Which, by
definition, defies explanation. Hopefully, somebody would
bury him. He had plenty of money in the bank, more than
enough for a respectable funeral.
What would it be like to be dead?
Are you aware? Can you hear? See? Smell? Or is
simply an eternal blackness. No thoughts. No feeling.
Nothing at all.
He walked back toward the front of the house.
Outside was a glorious March day, the noon time sun
bright. Florida was truly blessed with some terrific
weather. It was one reason he'd moved back from California
after his firing. He'd miss the feel of a warm sun on a
pleasant summer's day.
He stopped in the open archway and stared at the
parlor. That was what his mother had always called the
room. This was where his parents had gathered on Shabbat.
Where Abiram read from the Torah. The place where Yom
Kippur and Holy Days had been celebrated. He recalled the
sight of the pewter menorah on the far table burning. His
parents had been devout Jews. After his bar mitzvah he too
had first read from the Torah, standing before the twelve-
paned windows, framed out by damask curtains his mother had
taken months to sew. She'd been talented with her hands, a
lovely woman, universally adored. He missed her. She died
six years before Abiram, who'd now been gone three.
Time to end this.
He studied the gun, a pistol bought a few months before
at an Orlando gun show.
He sat on the sofa.
Clouds of dust rose, then settled.
He recalled Abiram's lecture about the birds and the
bees as he'd sat in the same spot. He'd been, what,
Thirty-three years ago.
But it seemed like last week.
As usual, the explanations had been rough and concise.
"Do you understand?" Abiram asked him. "It's important
that you do."
"I don't like girls."
"You will. So don't forget what I said."
Women. Another failure. He'd had precious few
relationships as a young man, marrying Michele, the first
girl who'd shown serious interest in him. But the marriage
ended after his firing, and there'd been no more women
since the downfall. Michele had taken a toll on him, in
more ways than just financially.
"Maybe I'll get to see her soon too," he muttered.
His ex-wife had died two years ago in a car crash.
That was last time he and his daughter spoke, her words
loud and clear. Get out. She would not want you here.
And he'd left the funeral.
He stared again at the gun, his finger on the trigger.
He steeled himself, grabbed a breath, and nestled the
barrel to his temple. He was left handed, like nearly
every Sagan. His uncle, a former-professional baseball
player, had told him as a child that if he could learn to
throw a curve ball he'd make a fortune in the major
leagues. Talented left handers were rare. But he'd failed
at sports, too.
He brought the barrel to his temple.
The metal touched his skin.
He closed his eyes and tightened his finger on the
trigger, imagining how his obituary would start. Tuesday,
March 5th, former investigative journalist, Tom Sagan, took
his own life at his parents' home in Mount Dora, Florida.
A little more pressure and—
Rap. Rap. Rap.
He opened his eyes.
A man stood outside the front window, close enough to
the panes for Tom to see the face—older than himself,
clean-cut, distinguished—and the man's right hand.
Which held a photograph, pressed to the glass.
He focused on the image of a young woman lying down,
arms and feet extended.
As if bound.
He knew the face.
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