William Dietrich will be a guest of Murder by the Book on Thursday, July 21. That prompted me to read the first book in his Ethan Gage series, Napoleon's Pyramids. The book wasn't just fun to read -- featuring an Indiana Jones-type caper -- but the underlying history seemed sound. The story was complex and the characters were charming. Even the villains and crazy despots -- yes, I mean you, Napoleon -- were intriguing.
Ethan Gage is an American in Paris. It's the 1790s, however, and has nothing to do with Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly. Ethan was an assistant to Benjamin Franklin, famous in France and much admired. Erroneously thinking Ethan must channel Franklin's genius somehow, Napoleon has drafted Ethan to find the mythical, mystical source of power of the ancient Egyptians. We're talking pyramids, masonic signs, hieroglyphics, cults of Isis and Horus, and secret passageways. Having gotten into plenty of it's-not-my-fault-I-was-just-doing-what-comes-naturally trouble in Paris, Ethan hastens to accept Napoleon's offer and protection.
Accompanying Napoleon are his savants, the scientific geniuses of France, including mathematicians, geologists, geographers, chemists, and engineers. Napoleon is on a mission to become the Alexander the Great of his time. He will move through Egypt and onward to Constantinople, the seat of the Ottoman Empire. Genius or nutcase? Dietrich inserts his fictional character into real events, including maritime battles between the English and the French, and desert battles between the French and the ruling Mamelukes.
Dietrich even comes up with a little sidelight on some of mathematics' most famous puzzles and makes it interesting and relevant to his story.
Although Dietrich's scope is wide, he is up to the task of creating an entertaining and well-written story, without losing his readers in the historic minutiae.