Cassiopeia Vitt has a problem. She owes ex-pat Russian Lev Sokolov a favour, and he’s come to collect. His young son was kidnapped in China, a growing problem no one will admit exists. In her effort to find Sokolov’s son, she steals an ancient Chinese artifact – a lamp – and then she finds herself kidnapped and being waterboarded. She does the only thing she can think of: she tells her kidnappers and torturers that Cotton Malone has the artifact they so desperately want.
With that, Cotton finds himself pulled back into Cassiopeia’s orbit, and once again running from mercenaries who want him dead. Only, this time, that running takes him through Vietnam, into China, and into the hands of his Russian nemesis, Viktor Tomas.
The Emperor’s Tomb continues Steve Berry’s tradition of mixing historical fact with present-day fiction, and destroying at least one (inter)national treasure while doing so. Those not inclined towards historical detail might find aspects of the novel slow – Berry lovingly details much of China’s dynastic history, scientific legacy, and political systems – but those familiar with Berry’s work will appreciate the fact that goes into his fiction.
This is not the book to start with, if you’ve never read any of the Cotton Malone novels, and that would be my single complaint about this book. It assumes you’ve read the Malone novels, and recently – or that your memory for detail is excellent! Several times, I found myself needing to consult older novels just to remember the relationships between the characters, and it would have been nice to see that history spelled out just slightly more than it was in the book.