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Wilton, Robert - 'Treason's Tide'
Paperback: 448 pages (Feb. 2013) Publisher: Corvus ISBN: 184887801X

The author, Robert Wilton explains in his introduction that when he worked for the UK Ministry Of Defence he came across references to an organisation that existed before MI5 and MI6 were set up, called the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey which carried out secret tasks for up to 400 hundred years before.

The story that he wrote which supposedly comes from the secret archives of Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey starts in July 1805,when there is a terrible storm off of the coast and a schooner is wrecked; two children discover the body of a man dressed in torn rags and unconscious on the beach. They alert a Parson in the village and with the help of a servant he manages to get the unconscious man's body off the beach. After the man has rested a couple of days he is taken by coach to Tiverton, in Devon where he is kept in the attic of a house and told that his name is 'Tom Roscarrock' by a man who announces he is Sir Keith Kinnaird. When he denies that that is his name he is told that he and his old life perished in the shipwreck and now he must use that name as he will be working for the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey now. He is told that he has been recruited because he is an orphan with no family, he is a sailor and he speaks fluent French. There are worries that England is about to be invaded by Napoleon and his army from France. The English navy is currently blockading the French ports successfully keeping Napoleon on the French side of the Channel. However, Admiral Nelson and his fleet are away in the West Indies, but the French navy is very weak There are concerns that the general population are feeling very unsettled as the French have had their Revolution and the nobility and monarchy are no longer in charge and the English lost the American colonies and there are feelings of anarchy which are being stirred up by rabble rousers, sympathetic to the French and Irish rebel causes.

The man now known as Tom Roscarrock is sent to London and with colleagues of the Comptrollerate-General for Scrutiny and Survey starts to frequent house parties to meet ex-patriot French subjects working over here to gather intelligence, he is also sent to observe public meetings. Suddenly it is discovered that the man who recruited Roscarrock, Sir Keith Kinnaird, has disappeared and his agents are turning up dead. There are grave doubts about the true nationality of Roscarrock. Is he English, Irish, American or perhaps even French?

This very slow burning historical thriller works its way into your psyche very slowly being composed of elements of narrative, but also letters (almost indecipherable in some cases) from different agents (all written in different styles) and people, interviews, cuttings from newspapers very evocative of the day and the whole lot, drip-dripping into the reader's understanding of the plot until perhaps the last fifty or so pages when the plot picks up like a steam train and rushes head long for the end. I could not put it down but I admit I found the plot a little baffling in places which perhaps is what intelligence gathering should be like. TREASON'S TIDE was the Winner of the HWA/GOLDSBORO CROWN For Best Debut Historical Fiction 2012, which is a very good recommendation and I look forward to reading his next book.

NB. TREASON'S TIDE was first published as THE EMPEROR'S GOLD.

Terry Halligan, England
March 2013

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 15/03/2013 19:26