The Emperor’s Gold

Written by Robert Wilton
Review by Peter Prince

This is a promising debut. Robert Wilton has used his knowledge of government to concoct a story of betrayal and deceit set in 1805, when Napoleon was massing his troops at Boulogne and the English awaited invasion.

In July of that year, a seaman is plucked from the sea off Cornwall, only survivor of a shipwreck. He is told that his name is now ‘Tom Roscarrock’. The mysterious Scotsman who gives him this information insists that with this name he has a future aiding his country against her enemies, foreign and domestic; without it he has none.

The Scotsman is Sir Keith Kinnaird, senior official at the ‘Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey’, responsible for the nation’s intelligence and espionage. He has chosen Roscarrock as his newest agent, and after a short indoctrination, he is sent to London to join the staff of the head of the Comptrollerate-General, Admiral Lord Hugo Bellamy.

There follows a complicated and lively tale of deceit and subterfuge, with episodes of extreme violence and passionate love-making, both frequently shared with the nubile blonde spy, Lady Virginia Strong. Through all his adventures, Tom displays such an extraordinary level of competence that the reader strains to accept the veracity of the story, although Wilton claims it is based on actual records.

Perhaps this does not matter. This lively, intricate tale will satisfy many, especially those who enjoy riddles and puzzles. One riddle mystifies me, though: Wilton launches the character ‘Robert Fulton’ into the story and then drops him entirely. Fulton was the American engineer who at that time was experimenting with steam-driven boats and even submarines. One would have thought he could have played an important part in a story much dependent on the rumours of a ‘mystery fleet’ Napoleon has created to sweep the Channel free of the Royal Navy. But not so.