Sunday, 17 May 2015
A Set of Lies
When Napoleon had become a captive of the British after his defeat at Warterloo, the victorious Britons and the alliance partners were at a quandary of what to do with the former ruler of much of mainland Europe.
A number of options were under serious consideration including trial and punishment, perhaps even involving the death penalty and exile.
Everyone knows that, ultimately, it was decided to banish the former emperor into exile on the remote island of St Helana, in the Southern Atlantic. So far to the south that it is a tropical island.
And there, in relative comfort, he lived out the rest of his life.
But, speculates Carolyn McRae in he her exceptionally well-written and evocative novel, what if that wasn't what happened?
What if the decision had been taken to, in effect, hide Napoleon in plain view?
What if the British Secret Service had convinced Napoleon to work with them, to be replaced by a double agent?
What if he had actually lived out a fairly comfortable life in England, protected by the British government?
In the novel the secret only becomes known some 200 years later when the secret and partially encrypted diaries of the man given the task of masterminding this bold and highly audacious scheme accidentally came to light.
According to Carolyn McRae the idea came to her when she and her husband were dining in a restaurant in the Naval town of Southampton. They were aware that Napoleon Parterre had been held on the Royal Navy vessel Bellerophon in Southampton harbour whilst the politicians in London debated and argued over what should be done with the beaten former emperor.
She said: "I started thinking about the options they had, parole, trial and imprisonment, or trail and execution, assassination or trial and exile.
"It was difficult to see how exile was the best option. We talked about how useful Napoleon would have been to the secret services and how wasted their opportunity was, which is where my story begins!"
The story works on several levels as a brilliant addition to the popular "What if..." genre of historical novels, but it skilfully interweaves a variety of sub-plots concerning the unfairness of the laws of inheritance, and how, 200 years later, a monstrous plot was brought to the light of day, a plot which would... but to reveal what happened next would risk spoiling your enjoyment of this well-researched and very well written book.
It is near 450 pages in length and at £9.99 will make an ideal holiday read. It is published by Matador on 28 June and is also available as an e-book at £4.49.
It is available from the "That's Books and Entertainment" bookshop which is powered by Amazon and available to the right of this review.