Bertha Runkle’s Helmet of Navarre is a thriller set in 16th century France with a new intrigue at every turn of the page and a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter.
France is in turmoil after the murder of Henry III. Huguenots under Henry of Navarre battle the Catholic League led by the Duc Mayenne. After three years’ deliberation, the Duc of St. Quentin has decided to throw his weight behind Navarre, although his son Etienne is in love with the Lorance, ward of the head of the Catholic party.
When St. Quentin openly goes to Paris, which is controlled by the Catholic League, his page, Felix Broux, follows him to the city. His first night, Felix sees three men in a supposedly unoccupied haunted house. He gets in through an unlocked window and drops into a plot to have Etienne kill St. Quentin.
Runkle pulls out every cliché to keep the story going: mistaken identity, secret tunnels, stolen ciphers, and the obligatory disguised hero visiting his girlfriend in the enemy camp.
Runkle’s fast pace keeps readers from noticing the string of coincidences substituting for a plot is too thin to support scrutiny or that the characters are no more substantial than the plot. If readers notice how weak the novel is, that realization won’t come until after they’ve enjoyed swashbuckling entertainment.
Helmet of Navarre
by Bertha Runkle
Illus. by Andre Castaigne
Project Gutenberg e-book #14219
My grade: B-