May 1812, by M.M Bennetts, is a sweeping story of love amidst the great Napoleonic war between England and France. The story begins in London with the Earl of Myddleton, a clever cryptographer who is struggling to break France’s most challenging code, Le Grand Chiffre, while leading a devil-may-care lifestyle of carousing in bars and trysting with various women. His bachelorhood comes skidding to a halt, however, when he receives a final summons from his lawyer informing him that under his father’s will, Myddleton must marry the daughter of a family friend or forego his inheritance. To make matters worse, the marriage must take place before the girl’s eighteenth birthday, which is in only days.
Myddleton does his duty and marries the lovely Miss Jane Heron but what he doesn’t expect is that he actually falls in love with her. And, although his new wife may have to bear his presence, she is all but put off by his crude comments and loose customs. Before Myddleton can woo his young bride over, the central conflict of the story occurs: the Prime Minister of England is assassinated on May 11, 1812. Myddleton is sent off to France on a perilous mission, one he will need all his wits for if he is ever to return home to his fortune, fame, and of course, true love.
Although the novel is quite long and passages of the book are dense with information that might have been better summarized, historical fiction aficionados will appreciate the research and detail that has clearly gone into this work. The characters are compelling, the time and place are rendered vividly, and the colorful dialogue puts the reader smack in the middle of the scene.
For me, the historical backdrop was immediately gripping; however, it was the evolution of Myddleton’s character from a callow cad to a seasoned adult that brought the story to life.
There is a lot to keep track of here, between the tapestry of characters and the various plot threads, and it does take some time to get your bearings as to who is related to whom, and knows what about which matter. But once the story is set in motion, the tale grows to be a gripping one, and all of the book’s elements converge nicely in a conclusion that is sure to satisfy.