We hope you enjoy this book review by Douglas R. Cobb.

Hallelujah! The newest Ethan Gage historical thriller is out, by William Dietrich, and that is indeed reason to rejoice! Ethan Gage manages to stumble from one important historical event to the next, always coming out of seemingly impossible or unescapable predicaments relatively unscathed. In Napoleonís Pyramids, for example, Gage (an apprentice of Ben Franklinís) served as a spy for both England and France, discovered a gold-covered book of mysterious symbols, became an advisor to Napoleon, and found a secret room underneath the Sphinx. The Dakota Cipher continues Gageís adventures, and the intrigue and political wheelings and dealings of Napoleon lead him from the palaces and casinos of Paris, where he seduces Napoleonís married sister, Pauline, to America, where he and Magnus Bloodhammer, a one-eyed Norseman, meet the newly-elected President Thomas Jefferson, explore the uncharted territory of Louisiana three years before the Lewis and Clark expedition, and search for Thorís hammer while being pursued by hostile Indians.

Dietrich has a knack for keeping the action and tension high, which makes his books very exciting and engaging. His characters intermingle and participate on historyís chessboard, becoming active participants in momentous battles and events, like when Gage suggests to Napoleon to take his army over the Alps via the Saint Bernard pass like Hannibal to surprise the Austrians. At first, Napoleon is skeptical of the idea, but warms to it as the audacity of it and the comparison to Hannibal hits him:

"Saint Bernard!" he went on. "What general could do it? Only one..." He rose to his knees. "Gage, perhaps boldness is our salvation. Iím going to take the world by surprise by crossing the Alps like a modern Hannibal. Itís a ridiculous idea youíve had, so ridiculous that it makes a perverse kind of sense. You are an idiot savant!"

"Thank you, I think."
Napoleon insists that Gage assist in negotiations with America over purchasing Louisiana, after he obtains it from the Spanish. Gage is to travel to the United States with Magnus Bloodhammer, who has the blood of Norwegian kings running through his veins. On the surface, he desires to free Norway from Danish rule, and be the George Washington of his country. While this is an important goal to him, he also has done a lot of research into links between different religions. For example, Odin, the father of the Norse gods, whom Magnus resembles, as both of them had one eye, was nailed to a tree like Christ was crucified on a cross. He is also convinced that the ancients knew much that is now lost to peopleís knowledge, and that the Freemasons and Templars were involved in attempting to preserve knowledge for future generations.

Shades of Dan Brownís The Da Vinci Code, you might think, upon reading this brief description of The Dakota Cipher, and there are comparisons to be made. Both books have plots that have their main characters searching for hidden treasure and knowledge believed to be legendary or long lost; both incorporate Masonic symbolism and history in their plots; and both are page-turning suspenseful reads thatíll make you want to stay awake late into the night to read the next twist and turn the plot takes.

Thorís hammer is, Magnus believes, a type of Holy Grail, one of perhaps several grail-like objects of immense importance and power. To him, it is not something from an old and inconsequential myth; it is real, and whoever manages to find it can use it to rule the world. He can use it to free Norway, and fulfill his destiny. Gage thinks Magnus is a fanatic, who has allowed fanciful thinking to get the better of him; but, the giant of a man proves to be an excellent traveling companion and very capable fighter. He shows Gage a leather map holder and a map from the 1360's, which appears to be of America and includes the Hudson Bay. The approximate location of where Thorís hammer is hidden is marked on it, and Magnus tells Ethan it will make him rich beyond his dreams.

The Dakota Cipher reminded me at times of the writing of James Fenimore Cooper at his best, in its lyrical descriptions of Indians. Red Jacket, who earned his name because he wears a redcoat taken from an English soldier whom he killed after gruesomely torturing him, also seems to come straight from the pages of a Cooper novel. However, Dietrich, for my money, is a much better author than Cooper, including a lot more action and several climatic moments that will make you want to keep on reading and long for the time when the next Ethan Gage novel will see the light of day. Until then, though, we have The Dakota Cipher, and anyone who likes historical thrillers and suspenseful Dan Brown-like novels will enjoy this novel immensely.



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