Book Review: The Eagle and the Viper by Loren D. Estleman

The Eagle and The Viper

Loren D. Estleman

March 2, 2021

One man can make history; another can change it. A high-octane historical thriller, The Eagle and the Viper from novelist Loren D. Estleman reveals how close our world came to total war.

Prolific author Loren D. Estleman turns his attention to a novel that mixes actual historical events with speculative fictional events in sort of a ‘what if?’ fashion. The end result is the suspenseful new thriller titled The Eagle and the Viper.

The setting is Christmas Eve, 1800, and the location is Paris, France. It is here where the story begins as Estleman retells the true events surrounding the infamous assassination attempt on the lives of the First Consul of the newly labeled Republic of France, Napoleon Bonaparte,  and his wife, Josephine. We know that the attempt was not successful, but the after-effects cost many people their lives and it is a historical event not very well known outside of Europe.

A scoundrel by the name of Georges Cadoudal banded together with some like-minded conspirators to take down Napoleon. The chief conspirator and ringleader of the Christmas Eve massacre was one Francois Carbon, a Brittany-born sailor who trained in the proper use of firearms and explosives under none other than French Loyalist Cadoudal. Carbon was the one providing, and master-minding, the placement of the gunpowder utilized to blow up the Bonapartes as they paraded through the streets of Paris in celebration of the Yuletide season.

The blasts went off as planned but only the wife of the First Consul’s coach was impacted, catching the outer edge of the explosion with no deaths to the occupants. Josephine’s sister, Caroline, was smashed so hard into the side of the cab that her unborn child was impacted and later born an epileptic. The concussion of the explosions gutted buildings on both sides of the Rue Saint-Nicaise, killing some occupants within their own beds. Napoleon survived this assassination attempt, but the Christmas holiday was all but ruined for the residents of Paris.

It is at this point where Estleman picks up the fictional reins and supposes that Georges Cadoudal would not have been deterred by this failure and would pull out a new plan to take down Bonaparte under the premise that one man can make history while another can change it. Cadoudal moves on to a small group of benefactors to assist him in funding another assassination attempt, one that would not fail this time. One of the principal financial backers was Geoffrey Randle, Fourth Earl of Rexborough. He is also one of a small group of fictional characters created by Estleman for the purpose of this part of the story. Thankfully, there is a full list of characters at the front of the novel that came in very handy while reading it.

The money Cadoudal raises is put to good use when it is used to hire the infamous international assassin known simply as The Viper. The Viper has a reputation that precedes him and, allegedly, there was only one person who knew his true identity. We see first-hand evidence of The Viper’s work as he brutally kills a handful of people while preparing his plot to take out Napoleon. While using a custom-made valise full of special hidden compartments, The Viper is able to travel from London to Paris with the tools he requires to pull off this nefarious deed.  

The suspense builds page by page as the inevitable showdown between The Viper and Napoleon gets closer. To make things even more significant, The Viper has chosen Bastille Day for the day Napoleon will breathe his last. This novel is such a fast and engaging read you will forget you are reading about real people and come to believe that The Viper might actually kill Napoleon Bonaparte. It succeeds in all the areas you expect solid historical fiction to succeed and is a first-rate thriller as well.

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