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Peter has been invited to give talks all over the country. His subjects vary from general overviews of the two periods to detailed examinations of specific subjects. 

So far, an interesting list of venues has included barracks, museums, a gunpowder mill, galleries, guildhalls, drill-hall, courtrooms, marquees, posh stables, ballrooms, front rooms, a castle, chapels, barn, hotels, Georgian pump room, stately homes and, er - Batman's Wayne Manor (actually Elizabethan Wollaton Hall, which starred in the movie "The Dark Knight Rises").


Talks available include:

"Love and War, Sherry and Tripe" - how people lived in Georgian times, what they ate and drank, their love-lives and other leisure-pursuits

"Fake News: Fact and Fiction" - examining the reliability (or not) of what we think we know about the period – this can be either Georgian or Victorian, or both!

"Balls, Belles and Bugles" - Waterloo and some of the famous characters, men and women, involved in the battle and its build-up

"The Home Front" - what was happening in England while the Napoleonic Wars were being fought overseas

"The Senior Service" - a look at life in the Napoleonic period Royal Navy.

"Napoleon: Master or Monster" - almost guaranteed to cause a heated debate!

“From Florence to Lincoln” – famous individuals from the early Victorian period appearing in the River Trilogy

If you would like Peter to give a talk, get in touch:

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You Might Also Like

Historical fiction has never been more popular, with more people than ever enjoying reading it. Peter writes the kind of novels he likes to read - adventure stories with plenty of historical fact, peopled by believable characters, with a touch of humour and maybe even a little romance! Here are some recommendations, classics and less well known works, for like-minded souls to consider.

A DISH OF SPURS by Robert Low (2020)

This is great fun, exciting and darkly amusing. Introducing an unlikely one-armed anti-hero called Batty Coalhouse, the action takes place in the Scottish borders in the mid-16th century, the peak of the border reivers' period. With the king lately dead, there is violence and plotting aplenty, with bandits and mercenaries at large in every corner of that hard land. Batty soon finds himself mired in a plot involving Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry VIII, who has his eye on the Scottish throne. Different, and all the better for that.

CAPTAIN BLOOD by Rafael Sabatini (1922)

One of the great swashbucklers (made into a famous Hollywood movie starring Errol Flynn) this is just a cracking good story, full of action. Dr Peter Blood is practising peacefully in the English West Country when he becomes caught up in the Monmouth rebellion, finding himself dragged before the terrifying Judge Jeffreys. He escapes hanging only by being transported into slavery in the West Indies. There he frees himself and slips into a life of piracy, preying on Spanish ships in the Caribbean, and later fights with the Royal Navy against the French. Naturally there is romance - and a happy ending.

THE SISTERS BROTHERS by Patrick DeWitt (2011)

Made into a successful movie, this is a top quality adventure, capturing the grit, romance and melancholy of the Old West. Eli and Charlie Sisters are bounty hunters - successful ones - out to get their man. But their prey is proving elusive. As they go on, Eli begins to question if this is the life he wants. But the adventure must go on. There is a good cast of characters - cheats, losers and baddies aplenty. A traditional western with a modern twist, it is darkly funny and the dialogue is really enjoyable.


Following the Battle of Culloden, the Highlands were in turmoil. Living peacefully is no easy thing as the English seek their vengeance on the rebels. Hero Iain McGillivray, a Jacobite survivor of the battlefield, tries to live quietly keeping a bookshop. Then he discovers a dead body and immediately becomes involved in a trail of deceit, with old arguments resurfacing and old scores needing to be settled. An enjoyable historical crime novel.


DEATH TO THE FRENCH by CS Forester (1933)

Known in the USA as "Rifleman Dodd" this exciting story is set during the Peninsular War, as a lone British soldier fights the French with the aid of the local Portuguese peasants. Renowned for his "Hornblower" series of novels set at sea, Forester skilfully catches the drama of the land-based action which has intrigued writers for two hundred years (Bernard Cornwell has acknowledged the influence of this novel on his Sharpe series and even name-checks Dodd!). It adds to the quality of the writing that the story is also told from the point of view of the French.

MASTER GEORGIE by Beryl Bainbridge (1998)

Nominated five times for the Booker Prize, Bainbridge is rightly admired for her works of psychological fiction but she also wrote excellent historical novels, focusing on topics such as Captain Scott and the Titanic. "Master Georgie" is set during the Crimean War, telling of the experiences of George Hardy, a surgeon and photographer, who goes to war followed by a herd of devoted followers, each of whom tells a part of the story. Excellent on both the exploration of humanity and the grim realities of war, packing a great deal into a slim volume. 

TIDES OF WAR by Stella Tillyard (2011)

In part set during the Peninsular War, this intriguing novel also focuses on life back in London. The strictly military matters are well dealt with but Tillyard also investigates such aspects as finance, medicine and scientific innovation. As well as the fictional characters we meet real-life figures such as Kitty Wellington and Nathan Rothschild as the story cleverly balances the two storylines.


From an earlier redcoat era, this is a prequel, but effectively the first of the entertaining Jack Absolute series. There is a lovely stew of espionage, swashbuckling, romance and intrigue. The settings here include London, Bath, Rome and Canada. Interestingly Humphreys involves "Genteman Johnny" Burgoyne, real-life father of Royal Engineer John Fox Burgoyne who features in the Ties of Blood novels.

THE TIME OF TERROR by Seth Hunter (2008)

This is the first of Hunter's series featuring half-American Royal Navy officer Nathan Peake. As suggested by the title we are in 1793 and our hero becomes involved in the complex and bloody goings-on in Paris and elsewhere. A plot involving forged French banknotes, the Parisian catacombs, London politics, romance and some great sea action rattles along enjoyably. Hunter has a real knack for telling a good tale while bringing to the forefront many of the real-life figures of the time.

THE SIEGE by Arturo Perez Reverte (2010)

Reverte is a really interesting writer. A former journalist he produces excellent contemporary thrillers (try "The Seville Communion") but he is also a fine hand as a historical novelist. This title is set during the Napoleonic Wars as Cadiz lies under siege by the French. Within the city a serial killer is at work. The plot involes a dashing corsair captain, a beautiful heiress, a dodgy policeman, a French gunner and, er, a taxidermist.

MASTER & COMMANDER by Patrick O'Brian (1970)

Hard to pick any single title from O'Brian's magnificent series - read them all! This is the first of the Aubrey/Maturin novels and we meet the pair as they themselves have their first encounter at the Governor's House in Port Mahon. It is as satisfying an opening scene as you could wish for and the story then goes from strength to strength. Expect excitement, of course, but also one of the best-explored character relationships in modern literature.

BLUE WATER by Leonora Nattrass (2022)

Set on a mail packet sailing to Philadelphia in 1795, a treaty is on its way to ensure that America does not side with French against the British. Not everyone aboard wants the mission to succeed. A murder mystery ensues. Really enjoyable, with a good cast list and an interesting plot, full of intrigue and tension.


THE CRUEL SEA by Nicholas Monsarrat (1951)

The moving story of the Compass Rose, a Royal Navy corvette serving as a convoy escort during the Battle of the Atlantic during the Second World War. The route from Liverpool to America was Britain's life-line and shepherding the merchant ships was both tedious and horribly dangerous work. As the months and years pass, the raw young officers mature and grow into a formidable team, though the stress takes its toll and eventually the ship is lost. 

BIRDSONG by Sebastian Faulks (1993)

This is a wonderful book. The action takes place before and during the First World War. Hero Stephen Wraysford is put through the wringer both in his love-life and through his experiences in the trenches. The writing is both gripping and tender. Ties of Blood hero, Royal Engineer Tom Herryck, would recognise the horrors of mining so brilliantly evoked here. Highly recommended.

THE DEVIL'S OWN LUCK by David Donachie (1991)

Introducing the Ludlow brothers (one an ex-Royal Navy captain turned privateer, the other an artist) this Nelson-era tale is part seafaring adventure, part Georgian whodunnit. The novel paints a persuasive picture of life onboard ship, with plenty of wardroom politics. There are several enjoyable novels in this sequence and the prolific Donachie has penned other naval sagas including a series based on Nelson himself.

MONTENEGRO by Starling Lawrence (1996)

Lots of pre-WW1 politics in this Balkans-set page-turner, but it features romance, adventure and properly complex relationships. Ostensibly an amateur scientist, the gentleman hero is effectively an amateur spy and gets himself into a number of interesting adventures. Hemingway meets Buchan, anyone?

GOSHAWK SQUADRON by Derek Robinson (1971)

Another novel set in the First World War, this story focuses on the war in the air - fought by the "knights of the sky" as the young pilots were over-romantically known. There is a rich vein of treacle-dark humour as the cynical, 23-year old CO tries to disabuse his junior charges of any notion of finding chivalry or glory in the lethal conflict in the clouds. The action is wonderfully believable and the dialogue is a joy.

FLASHMAN AT THE CHARGE by George MacDonald Fraser

Not really a fan of borrowing other writers' characters - a rule proved by this wonderful exception. Harry Flashman is a delight: a randy, cowardly opportunist who gets involved in some of the great scrapes of the nineteenth century. Not a character to delight the modern taste for political correctness, the candidly roguish Flashman finds himself unwittingly involved in all manner of adventures. The fiction is great fun but, equally satisfying, MacDonald Fraser's grasp of historical fact is spot on.

FOUR DAYS IN JUNE by Iain Gale (2006)

Gale has written a number of "redcoat" novels but this is my favourite by far. He tackles the Waterloo story through the experiences of five of the more famous real-life characters who were present at the battle, offering a range of viewpoints on the course of the battles. Including the Prussian experience, it is a worthy attempt at telling something of the whole story rather than the experience of just one army or another.

RESTORATION by Rose Tremain (1990)

Set at the court of Charles II, this story chronicles the attempts of medical student Robert Merivel to find favour with the monarch.  Rewared by wealth and a knighthood he makes the mistake of falling in love with the king's mistress. He finds he must sink very low before he can hope for restoration of his own. At the same time dark and amusing, this is  enjoyable not least for the portrait of Charles as a complex, tricky individual removed from the usual "Merry Monarch" image.


That rare breed - a readable Booker Prize winner! Set in a fictitious town (perhaps inspired by Cawnpore and Lucknow) during the Indian Mutiny, the story shows how life changes for the British community as the siege begins to bite. The Europeans are obliged to question their certainties and the results are both amusing and moving. Full of wit, the tale has plenty of solid history and politics, action, romance, sympathetic characters and enjoyable plotting. This is part of a loosely connected imperial trilogy together with "Troubles" and "The Singapore Grip". 


Bates is probably best known for the delightful "Darling Buds of May", but this is a little different.  The story follows the fate of the crew of a Wellington bomber forced to crash-land in France after a raid on enemy territory in Italy. Franklin, the pilot, is injured and is forced to remain, falling in love with the daughter of the farmer who is hiding him. Eventually a plan is formed to try to make the perilous journey through Vichy France to neutral Spain. Excellent detail, finely drawn characters and a nice balance between romance and adventure.

LONESOME DOVE by Larry McMurtry (1985)

This is a big, wonderful western (made into an excellent tv mini series). Set in the 1880s, the 800 hunded-odd page novel features a cattle drive from the Rio Grande to distant Montana. Along the way we get bandits, gambling, gunfights, hangings, horse-stealing, kidnapping, romance, stampedes - all of this with a huge cast of characters. At the heart of the novel is the relationship of former Texas Rangers Augustus McCrae and Woodrow Call, one an incurable romantic the other a driven pragmatist.

THE RESCUE MAN by Anthony Quinn (2009)

Moving and beautifully written, this is the story of Tom Baines, working as an architectual historian in Liverpool as the German bombers target the city in 1939. Baines becomes a rescue man, trying to pull wounded and buried people out from wrecked buildings. A second strand to the story involves Baines' interest in the work of a mysterious architect in the city's Victorian heyday. The two weave together satisfyingly against a backdrop of bravery, friendship, passion and betrayal.

PERSUASION by Jane Austen (1818)

Not necessarily an obvious choice for a consumer of adventure fiction, but there is much to love in Austen's last complete novel. Full of the usual wit and sharp observation, the story is very much tied up with the war which had been fought for much of the author's life. Her brothers served in the navy or militia, so she was well aware what went on beyond the drawing room curtains. Sailor's prize money is very much a part of this wonderful Cinderella story!

VANITY FAIR by William Makepeace Thackeray (1848)

Again a story which has the Napoleonic Wars as its background - one of the classic Waterloo novels! Becky Sharp is among the all-time great female leads (wouldn't dream of calling her a heroine). From disreputable beginnings, Becky wages a brilliant campaign to better herself (generally at the expense of others!). Blessed with beauty, wit and enterprise, but no fortune, her single-minded quest for betterment is engagingly bold for a Regency miss in a novel written in Victorian times. Great fun.

SEVEN MEN OF GASCONY by RF Delderfield (1949)

This is the Napoleonic Wars told from the point of view of the French - or particularly the soldiers of the title. There are any number of the great names featured, but the essence of the novel is to give a vivid picture of the lives of ordinary men in the Grande Armee as they experience both victory and defeat, from the Peninsula to Waterloo. It is neatly structured and stands up well for the modern reader.

THE COMPLETE BRIGADIER GERARD by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1894)

Another set of stories from the French perspective - by the author of Sherlock Holmes, no less! In his way, Gerard is just as delightful and memorable a creation as the great detective. There is plenty of good historical background - certainly swashbuckling and romance - but, above all there is a delicious sense of humour. Part Dumas, part Tolstoy, part PG Wodehouse - perhaps the nearest "hero" to Gerard would be Macdonald Fraser's peerless Harry Flashman.

AN ACT OF COURAGE by Allan Mallinson (2005)

Appearing midway through the series of Matthew Hervey post-Napoleonic cavalry novels, this story is set during the little-known British involvement in the Portuguese civil war of the 1820s, with flashbacks to the hero's youthful involvement in the Peninsular Wars. Mallinson, a former senior army officer, really knows his cavalry business and, if his characters sometimes appear a little stiff, the post-1815 settings are interesting and well-researched, while the insights into regimental life are illuminating.

AN ICE-CREAM WAR by William Boyd (1982)

Boyd has gone on to specialise in whole life epics such as "Any Human Heart" and "The Romantic", well worth reading. This early novel is set in East Africa during the First World War and brings together a miscellany of characters - ordinary, mundane people - drawn together by the demands of a futile conflict. The individuals are well drawn and the author achieves the clever trick of writing a funny book about a very serious subject (or subjects!).

THE SPANISH BRIDE by Georgette Heyer (1940)

Heyer was a hugely popular writer of historical romances. This one is set during and after the horrific siege of Badajoz in Spain and focuses on the true story of the dashing rifleman Harry Smith rescuing the beautiful young Spanish girl, Juana. The style might be a bit frothy for some tastes but Heyer's grasp of historical fact is very good, to the extent that this and her Waterloo novel were set texts for the cadets at Sandhurst military academy!

GOSSIP FROM THE FOREST by Thomas Keneally (1975)

Kenally later won the Booker Prize for "Schindler's Ark" but this fine and unusual novel concerns the 1918 negotiation to bring about an armistice. The war has ground on for four long years, with millions lost and nations brought to their knees, and a group of old men wrangle over the terms of the inevitable German surrender. Set in a railway carriage parked in a forest north of Paris, the negotiators argue and talk on while the guns fire away and men continue to die.

REGENERATION by Pat Barker (1991)

The first of a trilogy of the same name, the story is based on the real-life events at Craiglockart hospital in Edinburgh where the psychiatrist William Rivers is treating, among others, the poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Little was known about shell-shock or its treatment. As well as real-life characters Barker introduces fictional patients, but these are closely based on actual people, often mentioned in Rivers' own notes.

EMPIRE OF SAND by Robert Ryan (2008)

Another First World War novel, but this one is set not in the trenches but in the deserts of Persia, where one Thomas Edward Lawrence dreams of ousting the Turks and creating a free Arabia. But before he can achieve his ambition of fostering an Arab revolt, he must use all his cunning to deal with a counter-plot by a dastardly German spy...

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT by Erich Maria Remarque (1929)

Absolute classic - one of the best novels about the Great War or any other conflict. Written from the German point of view (the ironic title suggests how the soldiers were forgotten at home) the story gives a very believable account of the sufferings of men at war. Significantly the Nazis banned it as "defeatist".

THE RIDDLE OF THE SANDS by Erskine Childers (1903)

This remains one of the most enjoyable spy stories ever written. It is fascinating that the tale of a German plot to invade England across the North Sea was written so long before the First World War. Childers had sailed the remote waters he described and the book was intended as a warning to the British naval establishment. Ironically the writer was later shot for his devotion to the cause of Irish independence.

NOW WE SHALL BE ENTIRELY FREE by Andrew Miller (2018)

A new friend! Really good writing. Set in the beloved Peninsular War period, this starts with a broken soldier delivered more dead than alive to his West Country home. Who is he and what terrible thing has he done? Partly recovered he flees the past, going north to the Hebrides. But his history is pursuing him in the form of two men determined to deal with him. Compelling characters and excellent on the period detail and atmosphere.

THE MATHEMATICS OF LOVE by Emma Darwin (2006)

Another fine, unusual novel with a good helping of Peninsular War and Waterloo interest. Set in two times, 1819 and 1976, a bored teenager interests herself in the early 19th century owner of the house where she is staying - a man who proves to have an interesting history...

THIS THING OF DARKNESS by Harry Thompson (2005)

Thompson was a gifted comedy writer and producer (Have I Got News for You etc.). This excellent novel, however, is a serious piece of historical fiction chronicling the life of the scientific naval officer Robert Fitzroy - among other things, the captain of HMS Beagle. It is a meaty read - 600 plus pages -  and is by turns funny and solemn. But at its heart is the search for truth by a good man, and the satisfaction and woes that brings him.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens (1859)

Set principally in London and Paris, this was Dickens' most full-on historical novel and he worked hard to get his facts right. The background is the French Revolution and the cast features some typically vividly drawn characters. The action is pacey and the novel contains one of Dickens' great love stories. It also has one of the best-known curtain lines in literature (no spoilers).

MEMOIRS OF AN INFANTRY OFFICER by Siegfried Sassoon (1930)

One of the great First World War novels by a writer who was also one of the greatest war poets. Featuring George Shearston, Sassoon's alter-ego, the story chronicles the wartime experience of an officer in the trenches, broadly based on the author's real-life adventures. Laced with dark humour, the novel highlights the horror of life at the front, disgust at staff inefficiency and shock at the public's lack of awareness of what was happening in Flanders. Excellent.

ALL THE PRETTY HORSES by Cormac McCarthy (1992)

The first of his Border Trilogy, this is McCarthy's take on the American West, with three young friends setting off on a quest to find a way of life that no longer exists. This is high quality adventure writing, the prose crisp and beautiful. A classic "journey" novel, the sense of landscape is strong and the idea that knowledge can come at a heavy price is strongly evoked.

THE KING'S GENERAL by Daphne du Maurier (1946)

This novel is set in Cornwall during the English Civil War, using du Maurier's own home Menabilly (which starred as Manderley in the more famous Rebecca) as its prime location. The historical background was lovingly researched, the plot turning about the real historical figure, Sir Richard Grenville. The evocation of the pressures put on family and friends during a time of national crisis might just ring a bell or two these days in Brexit-obsessed Britain.

REDCOAT by Bernard Cornwell (1987)

This stand-alone novel of the American War of Independence came out when the successful Sharpe franchise was well underway. Written with Cornwell's customary pace and verve, there is room among the well-described history for plenty of action, both on the battlefield and in the bedroom.

TAI PAN by James Clavell (1966)

Another story which has more than a few resonances for the contemporary reader. Set in the mid-19th century, the plot concerns a ruthless trader's attempt to turn Hong Kong into the great jewel of Britain's empire, in defiance of the Chinese. The surest way to achieve such an ambition was for lead character, Dirk Struan, to involve himself in the illicit but hugely profitable opium trade.

ROSS POLDARK by Winston Graham  (1945)

The first in the famous series set in Georgian Cornwall, the characters have become well-known due to two fine television series. But the novels (particularly the earlier ones) stand up well in their own right. Like much quality historical fiction the stories deal with the big events of the day at the same time as shining a light on the lives of interesting, rounded individuals written as fiction. And they make you want to book a fortnight in Mevagissey or Polperro!

BLOOD'S GAME by Angus Donald  (2017)

The key incident in this splendid romp is the (factual) theft of the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London by Colonel Thomas Blood in 1670, but there is a lot more to it than that. It is excellent on the power struggles at the court of Charles II and is as much about Blood's awkward but talented son, Holcroft, than the great rogue himself. Great fun.

THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS by James Fennimore Cooper (1826)

Written almost two centuries ago , the novel's combination of history, adventure and romance still enchants the modern reader. It is a big story with timeless themes, not least in the description of the experience of the native tribes. The book was an early template for the "journey" novel. Classic storytelling.

AN EYE OF THE FLEET by Richard Woodman (1981)

This begins the long series of novels in Woodman's Nathaniel Drinkwater series. Hornblower fans, in particular, should enjoy them. In this opening novel he covers the topic of homosexuality in the Nelson-era navy which was pretty brave and unusual in a novel of this time. The plotting is excellent and the sea action convincing and engaging.

KIDNAPPED by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)

Much filmed, the story follows largely true events which took place in the aftermath of the 1745 Jacobite rising. It is full of memorable characters and gripping scenes. The central characters David Balfour and Alan Breck Stewart are two of Stevenson's finest. The central theme is the serious question of justice but there is still plenty of time for romance and adventure.

THEIR FINEST HOUR AND A HALF by Lissa Evans (2010)

Subsequently made into an enjoyable movie, this tells the amusing tale of an under-valued female copywriter moving from writing snappy advertising lines to scripting a movie designed to lift the spirits of ordinary people during Britain's low ebb of 1940. It manages to be moving, annoying and hilarious all at once.

MEN AT ARMS by Evelyn Waugh (1952)

The first novel in the "Sword of Honour" trilogy, this is one of the great pieces of fiction to emerge from the Second World War. Full of humour, the three books also give a brilliant impression of the realities of war, in all their fatuous glory. Waugh is better known for "Brideshead Revisited" and his superb social comedies, but this is well worth a look for admirers of historical fiction.

ROSE NICOLSON by Andrew Greig (2021)

Set largely in St Andrews in the late 16th Century, this is a wonderful stew of politics, religion, philosophy and, er. golf - all wrapped up in a great love story. It is beautifully plotted  and moves along at a cracking pace. Really good on the struggle for the Scottish crown. Makes you want to plan a holiday in Fife straight away. Also by Greig is "One Summer", a superb Battle of Britain novel. 

THE SHOOTING PARTY by Isobel Colegate (1980)

A wonderfully elegiac reflection on country house life just before the First World War (made into an excellent feature film). The story mixes together romance, politics, social differences and the complexities of rural life into a tale involving poaching, animal rights, adultery - and a missing duck! A look at a way of living - both of privilege and hardship - that was about to disappear. There is a great deal crammed into a relatively short novel.

AN INSULAR POSSESSION by Timothy Mo (1986)

Set in Macao and Canton against the background of the Opium Wars in the mid-19th Century, this is a big story dealing with greed, race, class and corruption. At more than 600 pages it's not for the faint-hearted and does take a while to get going, but it is rewarding if you are interested in this period of British colonial history.


DOCTOR SYN by Russell Thorndike (1915)

Filmed at least three times, this is great fun. Written by the actor-brother of Dame Sybil Thorndike, it is a tale of smuggling and piracy, set in Romney Marsh in the days before Trafalgar. The marsh is a place of mystery, plagued by the terrifying demon riders. The authorities attempt to bring the independent-minded locals to heel - with mixed results!

BIRDCAGE WALK by Helen Dunmore (2017)

Elegantly written, the novel (Dunmore's last one) focuses on the challenges of female life in Georgian Britain. The plot explores private and public violence as change grips Europe in the form of the French Revolution. The story is told through Lizzie, who marries a Bristol property developer. Her husband is unimpressed with her ambition and spirit. As the country spirals towards conflict, so too does the marriage.

TRUE GRIT by Charles Portis (1968)

Given the Hollywood Treatment a couple of times, this is a good read not just for fans of westerns but for anyone who enjoys historical adventures. When her father is murdered, fourteen year-old Mattie determines to bring his killer to justice. To do this, she enlists Rooster Cogburn - a man she believes to to have true grit. Funny and moving at times, the story rattles along...

THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Ambrose Parry (2018)

The first of a series, this is written by husband and wife team Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. Set in mid-19th century Edinburgh (Burke and Hare territory), this is both a murder mystery and an exploration of the development of medical science, most notably gynaecology. A good story with well-researched history and a clear affection for "Auld Reekie".

GOLDEN HILL by Francis Spufford (2016)

A charming, mysterious stranger from England arrives in New York in the year 1746. He is apparently wealthy - but can he be trusted? Lots of well-drawn characters, cleverly plotted, it will delight anyone who enjoys Henry Fielding. A lovely portrait of the great city in its infancy.

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The characters we meet in both the Ties of Blood series and in the River Trilogy certainly enjoy their food - when they can get it! Here are some of the things cooked and eaten in the books. The recipes aren't necessarily classic versions but have proved tasty and enjoyable to make when prepared for the mess here at Bicorn headquarters.













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Caldo Gallego



For a moment his mind pictured the civilised meal he had shared with this man in the late summer heat of Andalucia, not many weeks before. Now he was being given stew by a bandit captain in the freezing cold in the middle of nowhere.

‘There you are,’ Rico said. We call this caldo. Go on, you will enjoy it. It is potatoes and green winter things with a little ham and paprika to warm you. Here, I will pour you some cider.’




Galicia is in the north-west corner of Spain. It is a tough, remote region where the people have a reserved character and speak their own language. Eating and drinking are of prime importance to the people, whose cuisine reflects the mountains and rugged coastline of their land. Caldo Gallego is a soup perfect for the colder days in this green corner of Spain.





250 g dried white beans
Ham knuckle or shank
Chorizo, sliced
500 g peeled, chopped potatoes
500 g chopped cabbage/green vegetables
Teaspoon Paprika powder
Seasoning to taste


Soak the beans overnight in cold water
Put beans and ham in 2 litres of fresh water
Boil the ham and beans, then simmer for an hour or so
Take ham off bone, chop and return to pot
Add potatoes, greens and chorizo
Add seasoning and paprika
Cook for another half hour

serves 4

... on this occasion she had shown her scorn for their French guest by serving only local food - in fact a fine, mouth-watering feast of caldo verde soup, salt cod and potato and a good feijoda kidney stew. The Frenchman, properly in thrall to his belly, had been genuinely pleased


The Portuguese claim there is a cod dish for every day of the year. Salting fish was the ideal way to preserve it and bacalao is a firm Mediterranean favourite.



2 pieces of salt-cod
500g sliced potatoes
500g spinach
I chopped onion
finely chopped garlic
250g grated sheep or goat's cheese
cup of fish or vegetable stock
olive oil
flour for coating


Soak fish for 24 hours, changing water twice.
Cook onions and garlic in oil until soft.
Add spinach, season and remover from heat
Cook potatoes in oil, then place in oven-proof dish
Put spinach on top
Fry floured fish in oil (just to seal)
Place on top of spinach
Add stock and dress with cheese
15 minutes in oven at 220C

serves 4


Isobel, unused to this reserve in him, nodded and served herself a small portion. the stew was indeed very good, just the right combination of tripe, calves' trotters and sausage


Tripe is a hugely popular dish in Porto. The legend behind its significance is told in the book. Older British people know about tripe from the war years, when offal wasn't rationed.
Here is a version for hardy souls to try...



200g white beans (or a tin of cannellini beans!)
ham hock or pig's trotter
500g honeycomb tripe, chopped into 2cm squares
100g chopped chorizo
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 carrots, chopped 
chopped garlic
tin of chopped tomatoes
olive oil
chopped parsley
tablespoon each, cumin and paprika
2 bay leaves


Soak beans day before if using dried white beans.
They will need cooking for 2 hours next day before adding as instructed

Simmer ham hock/trotter for 2 hours
Add tripe and simmer for 2 hours further
Remove meat, cool and take ham off bone
Add tripe to (cooked) beans in pot, continue simmering
Fry onions, carrots & garlic until tender
Add cumin and paprika
Add sausage, ham and tomato
Simmer for 5 minutes
Add onions etc to pot with tripe and beans
Simmer for 30 mins
Season at last minute and garnish with parsley
Serve with country bread

serves 4


There was an appetising smell from the rabbit stew that had served for Crosse's dinner and would later make his supper.

from THE BIRD-SWINDLER'S FRIEND (short story)

Rabbits formed a necessary part of the countryman's diet. At war, too, "coneys" were a welcome addition to the often unreliable ration of beef or pork.



225g derinded streaky bacon, diced
1 jointed rabbit
450g diced swede
450g sliced carrots
1 medium onoin, sliced
salt & papper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
25g flour


Place bacon, rabbit and vegetables in a large pan
Season with salt & pepper
Just cover with cold water
Bring to the boil, put lid on and simmer for 1 1/2  hours until rabbit is tender
Blend flour with a lttle cold water to thicken
Stir well into the pot and bring to the boil stirring gently all the time
Add parsey, and season to taste

serves 4


He was even happier when they were presented with a dish of baked eggs with potatoes and sausage...


Huevos flamencos (or a la flamenca) is a traditional dish with, guess what, many regional variations. It is actually a brilliant way of using up leftovers, after Sunday lunch, say - yes, sprouts do work! Slightly nearer the tradition any leftover ratatouille makes a good base for a delicious egg dish.
Here is a recipe a bit nearer to the Spanish...



100g chorizo
50g bacon bits
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 onion chopped
small tin chopped tomatoes
half red pepper chopped
medium potato, chopped and cooked
4 eggs, separated
black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
pinch of salt and sugar


Gently sweat the bacon, onions, red pepper and garlic in a frying pan
Add the chorizo, tomato and potato, warm through
add seasoning
Place in cazuela or pasta dish
Cover with whites of eggs
Bake in oven for 15 minutes at 200C
Add yolks and continue to cook to your preferred state of runniness...

serves 2


There was a discarded wine tumbler on the floor, together with an empty bown. The boy had fed him bread soup, enlivened with a little cod-fish.


Bread soup is a popular Portuguese dish even today, but it was widely made in the poorer parts of the country during our period. The fish Diamante would have used would probably be prepared dried cod. You could maybe try some prawns if you have no bacalao to hand. Ciabatta has a good consistency for this - a couple of days old.



1/4 cup olive oil
10 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
litre of water
4 eggs
half a stale loaf (ciabatta or similar country bread)
Cup of spring onions, chopped
20 prawns, peeled and de-veined
chopped coriander
piri-piri sauce and seasoning


Gently fry garlic and onions in the oil
add the water  and bring to simmer
add the eggs (2 or 3 minutes - how you like your eggs poached!)
with a minute to go add the prawns
remove from heat, add coriander and season to taste
pour gently onto chunks of bread

serves 4


One of the Frenchmen, less than happy to have been captured, had grudgingly told them the pot contained a dish called chanfana. It was essentially goat stewed in red wine...


Chanfana is a Portuguese dish, often served at Christmas-time or for celebrations. Traditionally it is made with goat, but lamb will do just as well. Be careful to get rid of any scraps of bone when chopping the meat.



leg of lamb, bone-in, 7/8lbs
4 rashers of streaky bacon, chopped
Bulb of garlic, peeled and crushed
2 onions, chopped
bottle red wine
2 bay leaves
coarse salt
tablespoon paprika
few drops hot pepper sauce
4 tablespoons olive oil
parsley chopped


Remove excess fat from lamb and chop into 6 pieces. Prepare marinade by bunging everything except the parsley into a large casserole. Soak the meat for 24 hours, turning occasionally. Don't put it in the fridge, but leave in a cool place. Cook, lid on, for an hour at 200 C, then 2 hours at 180C. Garnish with parsley and serve with boiled potatoes or rice.

serves 6


'There is a battle, do you think, Captain?' Isobel Truelove asked, helping Tom to another dish of olla podrida, a hearty Castilian stew of ham, sausage, vegetables and chickpeas. It was more simple fare than the conde was wont to serve, but nonetheless welcome to the famished engineer.


Olla Podrida is a traditional Castilian stew and is mentioned in Don Quixote. You can put in almost what you want, but chickpeas and pork products are pretty essential. Olla is pot or pan and here Podrida means strong, so almost hot pot!



One and a half cups of dried chickpeas (tin ok for speed)
Pig's trotter
500g pork spare ribs
150g smoked bacon (bacon bits are fine)
2 chorizo sausages (or 4 of the little ones!)
Black pudding (small one chopped, or 3 of the large slices, bite-size)
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped fine or crushed
2 bay leaves


Soak the chickpeas overnight. Put in casserole/pan with pleanty of water and add trotter, ribs, bacon and bay leaves. Bring to the boil and simmer for on hour. Add the sausage and black pudding, onion and carrots - another half hour. Add the garlic. Remove ribs, trotter (and bay leaves!). Take meat off bone and cut into bite-size chunks. Return to stew. 15 minutes more, season to taste (careful with the salt!) and serve. If you leave it and warm thoroughly next day it will taste better.

Serves 6


An Andalucian by birth and habit, at first she had found the Galician diet strange but she had becomes used to the chestnut soup, sardine pasties, lampreys in breadcrumbs, gooseneck barnacles, boiled octopus, pork and turnip tops...


Chestnuts have been cultivated in north-western Spain for centuries - the trees valued both for their fruit and their excellent timber. Chestnuts are a favourite autumn delicacy and make a splendid, warming soup!



500g cooked chestnuts (you can buy these from supermarkets)
150g chorizo, chopped into nuggets
Large onion, chopped
2 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 chillis, finely chopped
Carrot, sliced
Half-tin chopped tomatoes
Chopped thyme
3 tablespoons of olive oil
Litre of water
Parsley for garnish


Colour the chorizo, onion and carrot, then add garlic, chilli, tomatoes and thyme. Simmer for 30 mins, then add the chestnuts and water and simmer for another 20 mins. Use smasher or old-fashioned spud masher to blend it. Season, add garnish and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4


Grouchy was a fiecely loyal follower of Napoleon and he was intent on fulfilling his orders to the letter. He would chase down the Prussians and push them back towards their homeland.
Following soup and a perfectly acceptable coq au vin he was settling to a dish of wonderfully juicy strawberries when an officer came in to tell him he could hear gunfire away to the west, somewhere south of Brussels...


Known as a bistrot favourite, this dish only became widely known in the 20th Century, but most French regions will have had their traditional variations, using the local wine.



Large chicken cut into ten pieces
200g lardons (smokey bacon is fine)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Litre of your favourite red wine
3 sliced carrots
3 sliced celery sticks
300g small button/chestnut mushrooms
18/20 baby onions or shallots
3 bay leaves
Chopped thyme
2 tablespoons of plain flour
Chopped parsley for garnish


Boil off the wine to remove alcohol, let it cool and marinate chicken and vegetables for 24 hours. Colour the chicken in oil in large casserole. Set aside chicken and add vegetables, bacon and cooking herbs and sweat for a few minutes. Add flour to thicken. Slowly pour in wine, stirring all the while. Return chicken pieces and simmer for half an hour.
Season to taste and garnish with parsley.

Serves 4


It was severe weather indeed which would keep a gentleman from inviting guests to enjoy his cook's efforts a putting together a little turtle soup, some pickled tuna, swordfish steaks, ragoo of mutton, salmagundi, beef stew, poule au pot, plum duff, good Cheshire cheese and a few dozen of port wine.


In this instance, Robert Blunt was on a ship which had touched at Madeira so we can give the dish a Mediterranean character rather than sticking with carrots and potatoes.



1k shin beef (or similar marbled cut) cut in chunks
3 tablespoons flour
oil or butter for casserole
half-litre of beef stock
tin of beer (not lager!)
2 onions, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 sprigs of thyme
2 medium carrots cut in chunks
red pepper cut in chunks
stick of celery cut in chunks
olives if you like them


Toss the beef in seasoned flour. Heat oil or butter in casserole. Brown meat, careful not to steam it. Set aside. Add more fat if necessary and cook onions. put meat back with herbs, add beef stock and beer. Bring it to the boil then let it simmer for two hours. Add the rest of the vegetables and give it another hour. If you can leave it 24 hours it will be all the tastier!
Enjoy with crusty bread or make some mash if you can't live without your spuds...

Serves 6


He had the Truelove family's most valued servant with him, a mute North African who, in addition to being a formidable protector, was an accomplished cook. He would handle no swine or shellfish, but he had contrived a superb dish of lamb and dates, roast tomatoes flavoured with saffron, and spiced carrots, followed by fruit and sweet pastries.

This is the delicious kind of dish often called (and cooked in) a tagine. The version here is simplified and can be made in a casserole or large pan. You can get the meat ready prepared from your butcher, as it takes a while to get the lamb off the bone and as much the fat off it as you prefer.



1k shoulder of lamb cut into chunks
2 onions, chopped
oil for casserole
4 cloves garlic, chopped
small amount root ginger, chopped
tin chopped tomatoes
100g dried dates/figs/apricots (choose your favourite!)
100g trimmed chantenay carrots (or sliced sweet potatoes)
teaspoon each cumin, ground coriander, paprika
pinch of saffron soaked in half litre of water
honey to taste
100g blanched almonds toasted
fresh coriander to garnish


Heat the oil and gently cook onions, adding ginger and garlic. Add lamb a few pieces at a time, browning. Stir in the spices. Add tomatoes and water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for an hour and a half. Add the carrots and simmer for further half hour. Season and add honey to taste (should be sweet!). Garnish with almonds and coriander. Serve with rice or couscous.

Serves 4

Salt cod ad potato
Tripas o Modo do Porto
Rabbit stew
Huevos Flamenca
Portuguese bread soup
Olla Podrida
Chestnut soup
Coq au Vin
Beef Stew
Spiced lamb
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Peter has read hundreds of books and visited countless websites in researching the two series – finding the skeleton he needs to flesh out with the stories. This page lists some general studies which will give you a background to the two periods.





There are literally thousands of books about the Peninsular War and countless more covering the greater Napoleonic period, especially Waterloo. Below are some suggestions if you want to begin to find out more.


Here are three famous multi-volume works:

A History of the Peninsular War  by Sir Charles Oman

History of the War in the Peninsula  by William Napier

A History of the British Army (vols 4-10)  by  Sir John Fortescue


These are equally useful one-volume treatments:

Wellington, the Years of the Sword by Elizabeth Longford

The Peninsular War by Michael Glover

Wellington in the Peninsula by Jac Weller

The Peninsular War by Charles Esdaile

The Years of Victory by Arthur Bryant  

To War with Wellington by Peter Snow


For more about the social history:

In These Times by Jenny Uglow

Feeding Nelson’s Navy by Janet Mcdonald



These books are some of those Peter found enjoyable in getting an understanding of the Victorian way of life and the events taking place during the two decades covered by the trilogy.

How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman

A Victorian Lady’s Guide to Life by Elspeth Marr

The Victorians by AN Wilson

The Noise of Drums and Trumpets by Elizabeth Grey

Crimea by Trevor Royle

The Indian Mutiny by Saul David

The Opium War by Brian Inglis

The Alabama Affair by David Hollett

A World on Fire by Amanda Foreman

The American Civil War by John Keegan

The Blue and Grey Almanac by Albert Nofi

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