© 2021 Bernard Cornwell
Boney is beaten, his ruined army streaming across the country. The way to Paris is open for the Allied armies, and yet Richard Sharpe’s war is not yet done. As much as he’d like to retire to Normandy with his future wife Lucille, raising their son Patrick in peaceful wedded bliss, there’s still trouble that needs Sharpe’s special touch. The Duke of Wellington needs Sharpe to rescue an English intelligence asset from a French prison before the spiteful Crapauds execute him, and the agent has his own bad news: there’s a plot afoot: a small cabal of embittered Bonapartists plan on spoiling the Allies’ victory by assassinating the Duke of Wellington, King Louis, and possible leaders of the Austrian, Prussian, and Russian parties as they enter Paris. Sharpe’s Assassin proves that Cornwell has lost none of his talent for small-scale military drama, or for the unique characters who give his novel such energy.
As much as I enjoyed the larger military dramas that Cornwell spun around Sharpe — as he stormed castles and broke enemy columns from Portugal to India — the small-scale espionage novels that he sprinkled in tend to be be my favorites. Sharpe’s Assassin is to that model, and most of the novel is spent with Sharpe and his chosen men sneaking around Paris, pretending to be stranded Americans, while investigating two suspected members of the cabal. The city is in chaos, and between the conspirators and common disgruntled French soldiers, there’s no end of the threats to Sharpe’s life. Balancing the tension is the ever-lively dialogue, as Sharpe and Harper exchange witticisms amid their marches, and Sharpe has verbal tangles with several other characters, included a hated character from the past and a French officer who bares an uncanny resemblance to the much-traveled rifleman. The background of Paris is especially considering given the time period: I’d completely forgotten about the “Bastille elephant” Simon Schama devoted a chapter to in Citizens, and I wasn’t aware (but not surprised) that the Louvre was at this time filled with the stolen art of Europe.
Although this isn’t a grand-scale Sharpe story, it’s a welcome return for an old friend — and the beginning, one hopes, of a happy retirement. Definitely recommended to previous Sharpe readers.