The Dakota Cipher

Written by William Dietrich

France, 1800. In Ethan Gage’s third adventure, our hero – lover, adventurer, gambler, sharpshooter and man of unexpected talents – has to leave France hastily (he’s bedded Bonaparte’s married sister) and finds himself with a mission from Talleyrand to help broker a French peace with America. Soon he’s on board ship with the hirsute, one-eyed Norwegian, Magnus Bloodhammer, who wields a fearsome double-headed axe. Magnus believes that his 14th-century Viking ancestors reached America and buried Mjolnir, Thor’s sacred hammer. He has an old map to prove it and tempts Ethan with the lure of treasure.

Magnus’s tale seems bonkers but harmless to Ethan. He’s not even too bothered when the inscrutable Tecumseh, chief of the Shawnee, joins them, especially when he’s accompanied by the aristocratic Lord Somerset and his beautiful cousin, Aurora. When Aurora makes it clear that she’d like a closer relationship, Ethan soon has more on his mind than improbable magic hammers.

Ethan doesn’t take himself too seriously, and I like his humorously ironic tone. Once again, his unexpected talents attract the women and confound his enemies – or do they? Before long, he is on a perilous journey to the Great Lakes – and his travelling companions are revealed as rather more than they seem. It will take all Ethan’s ingenuity and endurance to outwit his enemies and stay alive, let alone claim any treasure.

I love Dietrich’s skilful mixture of well-researched Norse mythology, the exploits of the Knights Templar, early American history, the Egyptian Book of Thoth, and a fantastic imagination. He grabs the reader by the throat and doesn’t let go until the very last page. The plot’s twists and turns are labyrinthine and well-nigh incomprehensible, but who cares? Dietrich is a master storyteller who knows exactly how to keep his readers enthralled. I read this with great enjoyment.