The Man Who Lived Twice tells the remarkable story of a nineteenth century British anti-hero. Colonel George St Leger Grenfell was the black sheep in one of Cornwall s most illustrious families. His wild speculations in Paris bankrupted his father and drove his brothers and sisters out of their home. Wanted for fraud in France and mosque desecration in Morocco, Grenfell became a soldier of fortune, a mercenary who fought in innumerable campaigns all over the world, always with conspicuous gallantry. He charged with the Light Brigade at Balaclava, defended the bullet-strewn barricades in the Indian Mutiny, hacked his way through the Chinese Opium War and helped Garibaldi to liberate Italy. Sailing to America to fight in their Civil War, Ole St Lege became a legend to the gullible hillbillies under his command. As massive armies collided and one hair-raising cavalry charge followed another, this complex man fell in love with a beautiful spy and came to realise that he could no longer run away from his past. In what was to become a spiritual odyssey, Grenfell met the men and women who made, marred and mythologised the American century: the business tycoons and social reformers as well as the Lincoln conspirators and back-shooting gunslingers. Although seemingly indestructible – in one military skirmish he was shot eleven times without serious injury – Grenfell had to endure long years in prison before his luck finally changed. The Man Who Lived Twice describes a personal search for redemption set against the emergence of the United States as a world power.
I would like to thank the author and blog tour organiser Anne Cater for the ARC in return for an honest review.
I was excited to be asked to review this book having studied American history and literature in Aberystwyth University many years ago. I’m delighted to say that I loved it, especially the rich historical detail. You can almost feel the chaos of the civil war seeping off the page as the battles rage around the main character Grenfell. The factual details don’t swamp the story, but they enrich it, emphasising the drama.
As for the central character Colonel George St Ledger Grenfell, he strides through the novel with impressive grandeur. It takes skill to weave a story around the life of a real person, but David Taylor has created impressive characterisation. He gives us a man who brave, determined, reckless and passionate, but very flawed and that makes him mesmerizing.
It is for me a very enjoyable drama with a impressive list of American ‘greats’ weaved in and out of a first class narrative.
You can purchase The Man Who Lived Twice from Amazon
About the author
I came to write novels in a roundabout kind of way. After a career in print, radio and television journalism which took in writing for the Guardian, reporting for Panorama, presenting World in Action and running BBC Features, I set up an independent company to make current affairs and adventure programming. By then, I had written my first book, ‘Web of Corruption’, a factual account of the Poulson scandal. Now, at last, I had time to pursue one of my hobbies, sixteenth century cryptography and one day in Lambeth Palace Library I came across a complex number code that had never been deciphered. It appeared in a report written by a master spy called Anthony Standen. Well, I managed to crack Standen’s code and was rewarded with juicy details of Queen Elizabeth’s love affair with the Earl of Essex. Better yet, the cipher created a trail that led all the way to William Shakespeare. Initial thoughts of a factual publication were shattered by the thought that anything linking Shakespeare to cipher would be laughed out of court and so I turned to fiction writing. I had never written a novel and found it hard going. It required a different skill set to journalism. You have to construct a novel rather like an engineering project while thinking in terms of crisis, climax and resolution. But in the process of learning this strange art, I was bitten by the writing bug. Hence, ‘The Man Who Lived Twice’ in which the central character is a courageous but deeply flawed nineteenth century Cornish mercenary who fought in wars on four different continents. George St Leger Grenfell helped the Moors bombard the French in Tangier, engaged in a private war against the Riff pirates on the Barbary Coast, joined the Turkish Army but still managed to charge with the Light Brigade in the Crimea, defended the bullet-strewn barricades in the Indian Mutiny, hacked his way through the Opium War in China and joined Garibaldi in liberating Italy, before voyaging to America to enlist in the Confederate Army where he became the highest ranked British officer in their Civil War. And all this from a man who had been disowned by his family after bankrupting his father and committing fraud in France and mosque desecration in Morocco. You might imagine that I found this perfect anti-hero in Penzance, where his family of tin smelters and bankers had an estate, but that wasn’t the case. I discovered Grenfell four thousand miles away while snorkelling with my wife in the Gulf of Mexico. Our search for tropical fish and sponges took us to a coral atoll called Garden Key which consisted almost entirely of a huge brick fortress. Fort Jefferson had never served a military purpose but it did become a prison at the end of the American Civil War. So we found ourselves in a damp cell being lectured on the Lincoln conspirators who had been incarcerated there. We heard all about Dr Samuel Mudd, the country doctor who had had the misfortune of setting John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg hours after he’d assassinated President Lincoln. Mudd, it transpired, had been something of a hero in Fort Jefferson, nursing the garrison through a yellow fever epidemic after their surgeon died. He had been helped in this charitable work, we were told, by a cellmate, an English spy called Grenfell. Now that captured my attention, particularly when I discovered that he came from my own county of Cornwall. The writing duly followed.