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Fast, fun and full of surprises, Dietrich's rollicking third Ethan Gage escapade (after The Rosetta Key) takes the expatriate American diplomat and soldier-of-fortune home to investigate the Louisiana territory, preceding Lewis and Clark, for Napoleon, who claims it was secretly sold back to France. Accompanying Ethan is Magnus Bloodhammer, a Norwegian berserker who hopes to find Thor's Hammer, a magic talisman of his people supposedly brought to America by Knights Templar hundreds of years before Columbus sailed. With the blessing of President Thomas Jefferson (who asks him to keep an eye out for woolly mammoths), Ethan and Magnus light out for the northwest, where their steps are dogged by vindictive British loyalists, hostile Indians and unlikely disciples of an Egyptian snake cult. The tale twists and turns like a spitted serpent, but Dietrich shows his sure hand as a storyteller, leavening a tale rich in intrigue and impressive historic detail with abundant wit and humor. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.