May 1812

Written by M.M. Bennetts
Review by Myfanwy Cook

This novel is set in 1812 against the backdrop of fear and conspiracy that are rife in England and Europe, and are a consequence of the Napoleonic Wars. The Earl of Myddelton, the rakish central character, is one of the élite code breakers trying to crack the Grand Chiffre, and so prevent loss of men on the battlefields. The assassination of the Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, in May 1812 ensures that Myddelton is sent to France on a secret mission. This complicates his tangled personal life, which includes his recent marriage of convenience to Jane Heron, a family friend, who is far from charmed by his reputation or by the man himself.

Bennetts’s novel is crammed full of action and factual details and clearly demonstrates a passion for the period she is writing about. Personally, I found the scenes involving the work on the deciphering of the code the most intriguing. The story is a long one, over five hundred pages, and the narrative lurches from crisis to crisis but ends on an optimistic note. It has all the ingredients that may appeal to readers interested in this period.