I recently was asked to review Greg Taylor’s Lusitania R.E.X. as it won the 2015 M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction. I was immediately intrigued as I know of the story, being not only a history nut but a sunken ship and deep sea nut, and yet also most recently from my son reading Erik Larson’s Dead Wake about the Lusitania, which I ended up picking up as well.
I was curious to see what Greg had done with his story. Greg’s novel relies heavily on his extensive research in that it is not so much dramatically written as much some completely made-up historical fiction can be (or as Larson’s book), but yet more of a true account that ends up proposing deduced answers to the sinking (as well as other unknowns of the time period) coupled in a setting of glitz, glamour, and money of the gilded age as well as the espionage and secrets of World War I. This makes it historical fiction, but in reality, it’s a book in which you can learn an extensive amount of history.
I’ve always been curious and interested in the time period around 1890-1920s so this fit right in to my interests with the controversy, the last names with the high price tags like Vanderbuilt and Rockefeller, and as well matched up with my penchant for international espionage. Since the ship was struck by a torpedo there is much of the war wrapped up in this novel as Greg searches for the truth.
As I noted, he’s done an astronomical amount of research, including interviewing people such as the 11th Duke of Marlbourough, Alfred G. Vanderbuilt III. He’s taken his research and used his imagination to re-create the people and the places of the times in a way that has us curious and intrigued. (If you go to his website, you can view many photos of the people of this time period and the Lusitania). I loved reading about all the different people he presented in the novel.
I felt transported to another era through his descriptions and characters. Though I would have maybe liked the prose to be a bit more tightened, or even a tad more descriptive, he did a wonderful job setting the stage and not only trying to answer important questions in history, but as well, entertaining me.
I really loved the “Proven and Unproven” section in the back of the author’s limited edition which took each character (real or fictional) and told us things about them he found or is known and if they were proven or unproven. For fictional characters, he told us how he came up with them or something about why he had them in the book.
This book is definitely recommended for lovers of historical fiction that is based on true stories, especially those of this era of World War I, or for fanatics that like stories such as the Titanic. It’s a novel filled with a pot of international relations and players, politics, and high society with the suspense of something like Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October. Highly recommended for special collector shelves or serious historical readers.
Lusitania R.E.X., Synopsis~
LUSITANIA R.E.X is a historical fiction account of the sinking of the Lusitania replete with spies and secret societies, super weapons, monarchs, millionaires and martyrs. After being struck by a single torpedo on May 7th 1915, the Lusitania sank in only eighteen minutes. Passengers such as Alfred Vanderbilt, one of the wealthiest men in the world, ignored warnings from the German embassy, confident the fastest ship in the world could outrun enemy submarines.
Since the time of her sinking, the Lusitania has been wrapped in mystery and intrigue. Experts continue to debate the cause of the second explosion that sealed her fate after the torpedo struck. Imperial Germany immediately claimed she was loaded with explosives destined for the front. Why did the Admiralty withdraw her escort ship? Who were the three German stowaways arrested shortly after sailing? Why did Alfred Vanderbilt give away his lifebelt?
LUSITANIA R.E.X weaves fiction around the known facts to create a plausible explanation of some of the mysteries surrounding her sinking. The book describes how modern, mechanized war with its zeppelin raids and poison gas brought to an end the gilded age of Newport, Edwardian England and Imperial Germany and Russia. The story unfolds on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in settings that range from gilded palaces and the Lusitania to the blood-soaked trenches of Ypres.
Lusitania R.E.X won the 2015 M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction presented at the banquet of the Historical Novel Society in Denver, Colorado, USA, and it is a finalist for the People’s Book Prize, to be announced in April 2016.
Greg Taylor, Biography~
My passion for history and research leads me to investigate a topic thoroughly before I even begin to identify the characters and consider how their motivations and personalities will forge the plot and themes of my historical fiction. For LUSITANIA R.E.X, for example, I spent a year reading everything I could about the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Then I covered my dining table with scribbled historical events, people, places, conspiracies and rumours. Combined with potential plots and subplots, I arranged and rearranged these scraps of paper for weeks until they coalesced into an outline of the book I wanted to write.
My research led me to develop first-hand personal relationships with the descendants of some of the characters in LUSITANIA R.E.X, including the 11th Duke of Marlborough and Alfred G. Vanderbilt III. I was drawn to the story of the Lusitania because I was fascinated by the cataclysm of elegant Edwardian society with the brutal warfare its industrial prosperity made possible.
After growing up in Colorado, I received a B.A. in history from Williams College in Massachusetts and an M.B.A. from the Yale School of Management, where I lived one block from the Tomb of Skull and Bones. London has been my home since 2000 and I have divided my investment banking and asset management career between New York and London.
Find out more online at Greg’s website.