I specialize in reviewing Print-On-Demand (POD) published books for my website and Midwest Book Review. Please query for a review by email to hgunther234@hotmail.com.

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Strong Books
PO Box 715, Avon, CT
Genre: Mystery/Historical/Fiction
Rating: Average
ISBN: 9781928782704, $24.95, 340 pp.

Quoting from the back cover:

"For nearly 200 years, accusations of foul play and spirited debate over the true cause of Napoleon Bonaparte’s death have only enriched the already colorful accounts of history’s most extraordinary figure. Suspects, ranging from English and French rivals to the French emperor’s own paramours, continued to surface while even the cause of death–stomach cancer or arsenic poisoning–remains unclear. ...

"When American historian and international treasure hunter, Paul D’Arneau, receives a mysterious and lucrative commission from one of France’s ancient secret societies to solve history’s greatest and most controversial enigma, he’s intrigued by this rare opportunity to redefine history.

"Wading through a long list of deceased suspects, Paul quickly realizes that his efforts to penetrate the secrets hidden in the musty documents and oral histories of Napoleonic lore could cost him his life. As Paul struggles to understand why the truth about Napoleon’s death poses such a threat to the warring factions that zealously guard their historical turf, little known details about Napoleon’s life, including an affair with the mysterious Lady Beckett, emerge."

This mystery tale is indeed rich in historical detail; however, it is also a fictional novel with significant characters from the imagination of the author–the Talleyrand family and the mysterious Lady Beckett, to name a few. And as such, this story will bring the reader no closer to the truth about Napoleon’s death.

Dr. Labriola is a renowned forensics expert; yet, this novel is not about the use of forensics to solve a mystery, with the exception of the DNA analysis to verify that the body exhumed was Napoleon’s, even though the missing Amendment/Codicil to his will was found with the body.

I personally found the novel filled with what I call ‘fluff and fill’ polite exchanges as multiple characters meet and relate, and I felt some reactions to events to be strange, such as Paul’s response to seeing Sylvie abducted after just meeting with her. What I considered to be the best parts were Paul’s notes to himself to help organize his thoughts. Quoting from page 271:

"KEY REMINDERS since 5/19:

"Sylvie kidnapped; only delegation knows she is spy for Verite. Warning under door. Vincent on board full-time. Guy arranges monastery visit with Frere Dominic. To monastery. Dom calls Napoleon schizo. He elaborates on histarian network. Says N’s postmortem disappearance a possibility. Mentions Clive Weaver at Elba & Thatcher Drinkwell at Helena: Lady Beckett & E. Indian Co; decision & plan; cartoons; Marshal Ney & the 4 who planned N’s death; Talleyrand. Mysterious call to Vincent. Review N & career. Sylvie returns unharmed, throws party; says she’s game for Elba & Helena. To Elba. Clive provides N’s will with codicil & notation of amendment; mentions Beckett, illegit. child, descendants of Talleyrand who acted as covers for N/Beckett liaisons; the inheritance; Mafia connection. Cartoon view. Confirm amendment reference but none there. Obvious Sylvie come-on. Review white paper on Talleyrand. Confrontation with Mafia types at castle. Decision to leave Elba, maybe the mission. Call to Victor in Amsterdam; will arrange Helena protection, Jules Smit. To Helena. Another Sylvie come-on. Review history of island. Driver turns out to be Jules Smit. "Fish Truck". Thatcher Drinkwell says Leon did visit island; at variance with Leon’s statement; arsenic theory; slow death theory; Ney & marshals; Beckett & illegitimate child; child’s lineage traced to Brussels; E. India Co. & 5 officers; issues of stolen body & double; inheritance; N’s mental state; love letters. Smit found shot in head. Thatcher provides us police protection. Pins & Needles. Issue of opening tomb at Invalides. Call threatening Sylvie. Review my own account on Longwood & gravesite. Call to Leon, weak explanation re his Helena visits. Notify Victor re Smit murder. On Argos. Sylvie’s strange revelation."

And so, there you have it...or at least part of it...in a nut shell. I personally was disappointed on several levels: 1) the slowness with which the mystery evolved, 2) the ’fluff & fill’ dialogues, 3) the cliche temptress, and 4) the lack of forensics in solving the mystery. However, if you’re interested in Napoleon Bonaparte, you may still find this story to your taste.