William Dietrich,
The Rosetta Key
(Harper Collins, 2008)

The Rosetta Key by William Dietrich is the second novel in the Ethan Gage series. Let me immediately state that the reader does not need to have read Napoleon's Pyramids to jump right in here. The author does a good job filling in the back story as necessary to bring the audience up to speed. However, if you are one of those readers that desires a more complete accounting of the many characters found in a novel -- and there are many from the first novel that sometimes suddenly appear in this one -- then you might want to start at the beginning of the saga.

Ethan Gage is an American unwittingly caught up in Napoleon's invasion of the Middle East in 1799. As an adventurer in search of a scroll of wisdom, knowledge and magic called the Book of Thoth, Ethan would love nothing more than to avoid the fighting between the French, the British and the locals in between. Unfortunately, his path constantly brings him in harm's way. During Ethan's search for treasure the reader will experience many battles, the biggest being the French siege of Acre. The action in the book is practically non-stop; you will not find more than a few pages at a time in the book where your heart won't be racing a mile a minute.

On top of the fighting during the search for this (un)holy book, Ethan finds, loses and regains the love of more than one woman. The man has the heart of an old-time Mormon, the ethics of Casanova, yet the skills of a high school geek when it comes to retaining love. He can charm the ladies. He just can't keep them. The only obsession that cannot escape his grasp is Ethan's almost deification of anything Benjamin Franklin-related. Gage plays with electricity and spouts words of wisdom from his fellow American like a devoted follower.

Dietrich is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist from the Seattle Times. As you might guess, he lives in Washington (state, not D.C.). According to the book cover, Dietrich is a historian and naturalist on top of being a journalist and book author. He has penned at least 10 books, mostly fiction, but some nonfiction as well.

At different times, The Rosetta Key reminds me of Indiana Jones, The Da Vinci Code or National Treasure. Ethan narrowly escapes death every couple of pages. He has more lives than a cat and more luck than a person carrying a rabbit's foot, horseshoe and a four-leaf clover. Ethan casually solves riddles and puzzles that have fooled other adventurers for centuries. He also changes sides more often than a tennis ball bounces across the court during Wimbledon.

But since this is a novel, scenarios beyond the realm of believability are allowed. Ethan is an amusing character whose adventures are fun to follow. This novel is fast-paced and nonstop; the only way you will ever have time to take a breath is if you put the book down.

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review by
Wil Owen

16 August 2008

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