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Matthew Hawkwood series, No 4
James McGee

Harper Collins
2011/ ISBN 9780007320240
Historical Suspense / France-1812

Reviewed by L J Roberts


First Sentence: He heard the rattle of musket fire and ducked instinctively.

Matthew Hawkwood, former military officer now a Bow Street Runner, as been sent to France by the Home Office. Neapolitan and his Grand Army are in Moscow, and the country nearly bankrupt. He has been given no information as to his assignment but knows, if he fails, all help for, and knowledge of him will be withheld. When he learns of his assignment it is audacious, dangerous and may result either in Hawkwood helping change the course of history or, quite possibly, in his death.

Although not really a mystery, this was one incredible book. Strongly rooted in historical facts, it is fascinating to see the events of history at the personal level and how the events rival anything pure fiction could ever invent. One learns so much from this story, including about the beginnings of the Brigade de la Sûreté, organized by a man, Eugène François Vidocq, who had been a criminal. In fact, most of the characters here were real.

Hawkwood is a dynamic character. He is smart, clever, brave and skilled yet also described as neither being a rake nor a celibate. He is a trained soldier. We actually know little of his background yet he’s as far from being a one-dimensional protagonist as one can imagine.

While sense of place, in terms of descriptions of locales, may be lacking, there is more a sense of atmosphere and tension created by weather, time of day, conditions and the tension of the story. This is not Paris at its most lovely, but Paris and other locations, as a surrounding in which the characters are trying to fight and survive. It absolutely worked.

There is absolutely nothing dry or boring about this book. Any brief disappointment that Hawkwood was not operating in England as a Bow Street Runner is quickly overcome. The one small criticism is that it did, at times, become difficult to keep track of who was whom and on which side they were so a character list would have been very helpful. Even so, even for one who is not particularly a soldiers and war fan, the 516 pages flew by in two days with nary a pause and only a bit of sleep. However, if you are a Patrick O’Brian and/or Bernard Cornwell fan, here’s another author to add to your list.

“Rebellion” is exciting, tense, suspenseful, at times a bit brutal, dramatic, and
completely absorbing.

Reviewed 2011