Berry ("The Templar Legacy," "The Emperor’s Tomb") is famous for using little-known history in his bestselling thrillers. In his new novel, "The Jefferson Key" (Ballantine; $26), former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone ends up confronting modern-day pirates who live in Bath.
Berry chose Bath for good reasons. In the 18th century, the town, on the Pamlico River, was pirate central. His plot revolves around a lesser-known part of the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8) that allows Congress to bestow letters of marque. These letters allow private vessels, known as privateers, to attack and capture enemy vessels.
"I think a lot of Americans would be shocked to know that piracy was a part of the American Constitution," Berry told me in a phone interview. Privateers, he says, were key to America’s Revolutionary War victory. During the war, U.S. privateers prowled the British coast, wreaking havoc on England’s merchant ships.
In Berry’s novel, we learn that descendants of privateers possess letters of marque that let them continue in perpetuity. And privateers, as you can see, are pretty much pirates.
"The only difference is one works inside the law, and one works outside," Berry says. Berry knew about Bath because he grew up spending summers with his mother’s family in eastern North Carolina. He paid the little town a visit in 2009 to research the novel. "There’s a whole track of land that sticks out into the river," he says. "I made that my pirate compound."Berry will give a reading at Raleigh's Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Ave., at 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 20. He's also doing a writing workshop 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, May 21 at Peace College. Click here for more information.