William Dietrich's sharpshooting adventurer, Ethan Gage, finds himself
embroiled in the political struggle between England and France in the days of Napoleon in his latest daring feat, "The Barbed Crown." (HarperCollins/345 pages)
Gage, who had saved Napoleon in Egypt, believes the French leader has kidnapped his son and killed his wife. Intent on avenging the loss of his family, Ethan joins with the Royalist spy, Comtesse Catherine Marceau, to exact revenge and discredit Napoleon thereby raising sympathy for the Royalist cause in hopes of restoring the monarchy.
Their audacious plot is to substitute the Crown of Thorns worn by Jesus Christ in place of the golden laurel wreath Napoleon plans to wear at his coronation as Emperor. This would humiliate the leader of the French Republic and unmask his insane ambition.
But Napoleon's minister, Talleyrand, has his own plans for Ethan and he enlists the American to travel to Prague to seek out the legendary Brazen Head created by the scholar, Albert the Great.
This mechanical device, dubbed an android, was thought to be able to predict the future and was condemned by Albert's famous student, Thomas Aquinas.
This reviewer suspects that the Brazen Head was a primitive computer of sorts. The solution to this mystery must wait as the unfortunate Mr. Gage is again sidelined; caught up in the power play between the French and English naval forces as he winds up on a French ship (with his Jaeger rifle, a gift from Napoleon) at the epic battle of Trafalgar.
Students of history will appreciate the climactic showdown between Lord Nelson and Admiral Villeneuve. William Dietrich's prose is so vivid in his description of early nineteenth century naval tactics that the reader may experience a touch of mal de mer.
But through the carnage and rolling waves, Dietrich's fans will not stop cheering on the lovable gambler. Gage,through habitual misfortune, finds himself a pawn of history and a witness to the greatest sea battle of all time at Trafalgar.