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Monday 6 February 2017

‘The Napoleon Complex’ by E M Davey

Published by Duckworth Overlook,  
25 August 2016.
ISBN: 978-0-7156-5108-7

In our brave new world of post-truth and alternative facts, a novel which looks at some historical evidence and offers a new interpretation would seem to be both timely and relevant. That’s what E M Davey does in this richly detailed, intricate adventure thriller.

It’s described on the cover as an intelligent historical thriller; that’s not strictly true, although history does lie at the heart of the fast-moving plot. Protagonists former reporter Jake Wolsey and renegade MI6 operative Jenny Frobisher are rooted very much in the 21st century, as is the plot they eventually uncover; but the thread they chase and the evidence they re-interpret emanate from much earlier periods of history.

On the surface the theory is far-fetched: Napoleon, Hitler and possible other empire-building historical figures owe their success to an ancient text which gives them access to a power beyond normal understanding. The search for this ancient text forms the framework of the novel, along with Jake and Jenny’s nail-biting attempts to outrun rival seekers.

E M Davey’s historical research is impeccable; the narrative is littered with genuine quotations from diaries, letters and other documents from several eras, all of which are open to the interpretation his characters place on them if you keep an open mind. He also knows how to structure a thriller, opening with plenty of action, leaping from one story thread to another leaving cliffhangers every step of the way, engineering last-minute escapes and avoidances for Jake and Jenny, and turning the chase on its head just when the reader least expects it.

He’s also good at colouring in the background; a middle eastern prison cell, the African desert and opulent government buildings are only a few of the well-realized and diverse environments in which the action takes place.

Some characters are writ large: British prime minister Victor Milne is almost a caricature of a power-hungry politician, and some of his cohorts in the security services wouldn’t be out of place in a James Bond movie. But through all the complexity (the title is well-chosen!), the uneasy relationship between Jake and Jenny keeps the reader engaged, and they quickly emerge as real, flawed, vulnerable human beings despite the special skills they possess.

The Napoleon Complex isn’t a quick, easy read, but it is a rewarding one. And it will make you think – especially in the light of recent political developments in the real world.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Edward M. Davey is a 32-year-old journalist at the BBC specialising in undercover investigative journalism. He grew up in Bristol and lives in south London. He studied history at the London School of Economics and cut his journalistic teeth at the Islington Gazette When not working he enjoys travel to far-flung and occasionally dangerous spots to research his fiction, and just for the heck of it. He has backpacked forty-four countries (and counting), including somewhat hairy environs such as the Congo, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and Burundi.. At the BBC he has written for the national website, produced programmes on the World Service and is currently an investigative reporter/producer at BBC London. History – particularly classical history –has been his lifelong passion.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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