Alec Marsh

Rule Britannia

""The pace is relentless...""


It is 1936, and Ernest Drabble, a Cambridge historian and mountaineer is asked to go to Devon and examine a morbid object - the mummified head of Oliver Cromwell. It is in the possession of Dr Wilkinson. He only tells one person of his trip and its purpose - his friend Harris, a journalist. It seems an easy enough task, but on the train Drabble is attacked and almost killed. However, he survives and reaches the home of Dr Wilkinson, only to find the man has been murdered and his house ransacked. His secretary, the feisty Kate Honeyand, at first mistakes him for the murderer. Drabble convinces her that he isn't, and then discovers a note to Dr Wilkinson written by Churchill. In it he asks Wilkinson to deliver the head to him personally. So begins a car journey for the both of them to London.

Meanwhile, Harris has his own problems. After being captured, he finds out that Fascists are after the head for some reason, and he is tortured to tell them. The leader of the Fascists is the evil Sir Carmen Kelly, baronet and MP, who takes a delight in inflicting pain, and he does so to Harris with great glee.

The story spins out at a hectic pace, taking in Wallace Simpson, Stonehenge, climbing the North Face of the Eiger and finally ending up in a fortress on the coast. But why do the Fascists want the head in the first place? What power does it have? Will Drabble and Honeyand deliver it to Churchill?

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This book is the first in a series starring Drabble and Harris. It is a romp, with no let up. The pace is relentless, the obstacles encountered are many, and it makes no pretence at being literature. Action is all. When writing it, Alec March no doubt gave a nod to John Buchan. I found that it had two faults, however. One was the fact that the characters were two-dimensional. Sir Carmen Kelly was evil. That was about it. There was no effort to dig into the man's background or character to find out why he took such delight in inflicting pain and supporting Fascist ideals. Kate was also two-dimensional. There was very little back-story to bring her to life. Maybe we'll learn more in the next book in the series, but it would have been nice if we had been at least told something. The other was the fact that I thought it was overwritten. Alec Marsh's researches into the period are faultless, but the impression I got was that he felt he had to include this research at every turn. And there was one factual error in the book. He states that the Interregnum was the first republic in Europe since the Roman Empire. This honour actually goes to the Republic of San Marino, a small country entirely surrounded by Italy. A small mistake maybe, but it did niggle. But if you enjoy a page-turner (and believe me, it is a page-turner), then you will enjoy this book. Full marks for that.

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