Loren D. Estleman’s The Eagle and the Viper

91N2CLmb0DLLoren D. Estleman’s The Eagle and The Viper looks at a set of attempts upon the life of Napoleon Bonaparte, and in no small part doing so from a contemporary police investigative point of view. Told in the style of a suspensful thriller, this historical novel moves fast enough some readers might just expect it to slip into the alternate reality.

The titular Viper is, as  one might suspect, an assassin sent to terminate the life of Napoleon, often referred to as the First Consul in this volume. He is also a man the audience is given little reason to feel for. He murders children and adults alike, and has a string of aliases. These include Chaucer and Moliere, which might make him sympathetic to the reader with a knowledge of literary history, however his total distaste for fiction is likely to run those selfsame people away. That said he is quite thorough in his plans and actions, and it provides a very good bit of entertainment seeing the lengths he goes to equipping himself for and making an attempt at assassination.

Nicholas Dubois was a historical detective, and Estleman delivers a depiction of him as somewhat downtrodden yet committed to his work which is most entertaining. He seems less despairing, and instead much more in a situation where he needs to placate multiple egomaniacs. Given he has figures such as Joseph Fouché and Napoleon Bonaparte to contend with, this is an entirely logical reaction.

Joseph Fouché is depicted as a sinister figure as a spymaster, and his dangerous and duplicitous status are and open secret at best. It is made clear his only loyalty is personal, and that one cannot hope to ever fully trust him. Even Napoleon Bonaparte sees him as more a particularly useful monster than an ally or workhorse. 

Napoleon Bonaparte is depicted as a relatively neutral historical figure. His military record at the time is lauded, however it is clear he is ambitious and very much not in line with the ideals of the revolutionaries whom he relatively recently displaced. The philandering he performed across the continent is discussed briefly, although his personal racism is not dwelt upon in significant fashion.

After the text proper comes a nice afterward in which Estleman explains some of his decisions, as well as a recommended reading list featuring a surprisingly up-to-date set of Buck’s focusing on history relating to the events of this volume.

Loren D. Estleman is an author who excels at telling historical stories. They are well-researched, and yet rarely if ever resort to dumping large amounts of information directly onto the reader. He also remains entertainingly focused upon telling a good story with the history at hand.  Indeed in the afterward he apologizes for a slightly anachronistic hat, because he couldn’t bear the thought of another on the head of his detective.

Overall, The Eagle and the Viper is easy to recommend. It is a fresh spin on a Napoleonic volume, and an unusual setting for a historical mystery. The fact Loren D Estleman managed to construct a historical thriller out of so many known events is impressive, and the reader should enjoy even the parts that are conjecture. More hard-boiled than whodunit, this volume is likely to be enjoyed by a relatively wide potential audience.

(Forge 2021)


Warner Holme

Warner Holme is a longtime booklover who tends to read anything he can. He has held,many positions, ranging,from the educational to medical all the way to the mildly usurous. Largely forgotten by those around him, Warner has lived in a number of locations, yet keeps being pulled back to the south. He currently lives there with his pets, and politely asks not to be disturbed.

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