M, King’s Bodyguard

Written by Niall Leonard
Review by Valerie Adolph

January 1901: Queen Victoria has died. Plans for her funeral are made by the court, the military, the police, and by assorted anarchists and troublemakers who plan to use the event to their advantage.

Detective Chief Superintendent William Melville of Scotland Yard is bodyguard to the new king, but at this funeral with its long procession, he is responsible not only for the safety of King Edward but also for the safety of the visiting Kaiser Wilhelm from Germany.

Kaiser Wilhelm, a grandson of Queen Victoria, is a spoilt and dangerous young man facing political turmoil at home. If harm should come to him in Britain, war would be inevitable.

Melville is aware of dissident, anarchist, and terrorist groups from several European countries – that is his job, but a week before the funeral he is advised of a new threat, a man calling himself Akushku, who has a specific plan to kill the Kaiser during the funeral.

The novel moves rapidly and forcefully, detailing the battle of wits and violence between Akushku and Melville, who is assisted by Steinhauer, his German counterpart, who may or may not be trustworthy.

The narrative reads with immediacy and intensity, carrying the reader from the presence of the new king to the gasworks and eventually to the funeral procession. Briefly and succinctly, the author covers political unrest throughout Europe in 1901, the social unrest in Britain at the time, and the delicate maneuverings of spies and counterspies.

This is an engrossing read with finely honed detail that does not impede the plot, and blistering action providing counterpoint to carefully worded dialog where inference is the essence. Additional gravitas comes from the afterword, which states that the novel is based on an exhaustive biography of Melville and on Steinhauer’s autobiography.