Forget the mummies—there’s a really big-time secret under wraps in Egypt’s pyramids.
And whatever it is, Napoleon wants to unravel it. Actually, everybody does, but American ex-pat Ethan Gage has the best shot. Ethan’s got the MacGuffin (in this case, a centuries-old gold medallion associated with the pyramids), which he won at cards. The year is 1798, the scene Paris, a place of revelry, licentiousness and maybe a little post-guillotine angst. Young Ethan is at loose—an apt word—ends, having completed service as a sort of right-hand man to Ben Franklin, gone home now to take his place among the Founding Fathers. Suddenly, thanks to his prize, the heretofore aimless if amiable Ethan is imbued with renewed energy, committed to a mission that will change his life. He must beat a path to the pyramids, tracking the medallion in the hope of unlocking secrets that will enable him to understand: (1) what it is that makes it so fatally irresistible (2) why so many insist that the answer lies in the realm of the mystical—that whoever breaks its code achieves a unique and awesome power as the result. Certainly, Napoleon is a believer, a fact that paves the way for Ethan to be on hand when the ferocious Corsican invades Egypt. As it happens, he is also on hand when the ferocious Corsican confronts Lord Nelson, a plot development that will give some readers pause. In the end—after a quest full of fierce fights, narrow escapes, betrayals by friends and enemies, a love gained and lost—the medallion’s message turns out to be . . . Sphinx-like.
Dietrich (The Scourge of God, 2005, etc.) is never less than authoritative, but when a storyteller’s setting is more interesting than his characters, his novel’s in trouble.