Summer Reads from Sharpe Books

Summer Reads from Sharpe Books' authors. Recommended history and historical fiction.
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Summer Reads from Sharpe Books

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Alan Bardos

Author of The Dardanelles Conspiracy

The Unseen Enemy by Tom Walker, is a perfect summer read invoking Sunday afternoons watching a black and white war film. Tom Walker effortlessly brings to life an RAF squadron in World War Two, with a secret mission that could turn the course of the war and a deadly enemy, in a pacy action packed adventure novel. 

For something to make the blood run cold and take the edge of the heat, I’d recommend The Crimson Child by R.N. Morris. You’ll never think of Alice in Wonderland in quite the same way again. Morris vividly depicts Tsarist Russia at the end of the nineteenth century and the intrigues of court. The murder mystery at its heart sheds light on a long forgotten and shameful secret of Imperial Russia.

Simon Sebag Montefiore

Fiona Forsyth

Author of The Third Daughter

 The Carnelian Phoenix by Jacquie Rogers (Quintus Valerius mysteries 2) – Knowing that this, the second book in Jacquie’s series, takes us to Rome, I was very eager to read it. It did not disappoint and for me the bonus was “meeting” one of my favourite Roman historians, Cassius Dio. It was a one-day read, bounding along with energy and pace. Our hero Quintus and his love Julia get put through the emotional mill and the complications of family make an intriguing sub-plot.
I don’t know anything about Rome in this third century era, so that was a big draw. The city is beautifully portrayed in all its guts and glory. Britannia does not get neglected though, and as in her first book, “The Governor’s Man” Jacquie paints an utterly believable picture of the island at the edge of Empire.

The Alchemist’s Plot (Lord’s Legacy 5) by Eleanor Swift-Hook –This is the fifth in a series set in the English Civil war, a period of history completely beyond my comfort zone, but I read it at a gallop, devouring each book as it was published. Not only do I feel I learned a lot – which I really do enjoy in an historical novel – but the characters wormed their way in my reading heart. I worried about what was going to happen to the hero Gideon!
Eleanor’s expertise permeates the story without weighing it down, and the plotting across all six books is superb. Here in “The Alchemist’s Plot” the threads are beginning to draw together as the conspiracy which has arced across the series starts to take shape for the reader.
Oh and any book referring to John Dee, surely the most interesting Elizabethan, has to be top of the TBR pile!

The Crimson Child, R. N. Morris – This murder mystery set in nineteenth century Russia kicks off with a stunning murder, gruesome and bewildering. There is nothing like a beheading to get things going!
The detective Virginsky is an unusually thoughtful and philosophical hero and he needs to be, battling a complex array of vested interest and a sinister boss who is one of those charming and suspicious characters one knows is up to no good.
A powerful ending makes the book emotionally satisfying, which is always important for a murder mystery, but it scores very highly as an historical novel, with Roger building an impeccable atmosphere amid the nastier corners of St Petersburg.

Helen Fry

Richard Foreman

Author of Turpin’s Prize

One of the projects that I have been proud to be involved in this year is the publication of Field Marshal William Slim’s The General Wondered Why, The English Colonel and A Close Shave. Special thanks should go to Robert Lyman for editing and curating the material. Should you be a fan of Kipling and Allan Mallinson, or have an interest in the British Empire and Indian Army, then you would do well to treat yourself and read these stories, written by one of our greatest military commanders. 


Helen Fry


Author of The Crimson Child

Shadow of Treason by Peter Tonkin. I grew up in the 1960s and 70s when the beginning of November was always marked by kids begging a “Penny for the Guy”, while dragging a homemade dummy around in a go-cart. Some of those Guys left a lot to the imagination. Now, the imagination of a master storyteller has stepped forward to the fill the gap. We all sort of know the broad story, I suppose, but it’s a revelation to read Peter Tonkin’s fresh and utterly riveting retelling of it. The narrative smoulders like an expertly set fuse, as the dates of the calendar are marked off and the fateful day, burnt into our collective memory, draws nearer. I was reminded of Frederick Forsyth’s The Day of the Jackal by the relentless cranking of tension. Tonkin is fair to the humanity of all the participants – conspirators and intelligencers alike. And we are equally horrified by the lengths that each side will go to – whether it’s wholesale massacre or cruel torture. There are some cracking set pieces, explosive action scenes, even tender romantic moments – all set against a historical setting that is deftly conveyed and utterly convincing. 

Blood and Shadows by Fiona Forsyth. Forsyth excels at bringing a distant period of history to vivid life, primarily by means of her wonderfully imagined characters, who are recognisably human, without ever being anachronistic. It’s a remarkable feat to pull off, considering how different – alien, even – life was at the end of the first century BCE. The action takes place over many years, from 42 BCE to 9 BCE, during which time we see the protagonist Lucius Sestius and his friends – the poet Horace and Marcus Cicero (son of the famous orator) – deal with the aftermath of a brutal civil war in which they were on the losing side. It’s a time of transition, as the Roman Republic gives way to the Empire founded by Augustus. That transition is not achieved without cost. Sestius has been left traumatised and adrift. We see him slowly piece his life back together. But he’s not the only casualty. A murder story is threaded through the wider narrative, the denouement of which is a powerful and moving comment on the dehumanising effect of war. 

Helen Fry

Peter Tonkin

Author of Shadow of Treason

Then there is Desperate Valour by Timothy Ashby in which we follow Chart, a mixed-race officer in the English army during the American War of Independence. Chart is sent undercover into New Orleans to prepare the way for a full frontal attack on the city. The attack proceeds despite his warnings of a disastrous outcome – warnings that prove all too well-founded. Military narrative to equal the best of Flashman

Finally in The Crimson Child by R.N.Morris we find ourselves in Pre-Revolutionary St Petersburg where the relentless detective (cunningly lifted from Crime and Punishment) seeks to solve the murderous attack on an elderly General in a beautiful park – an assignment which leads him ever deeper into duplicity and danger… 

Keith Lowe

Alistair Tosh

Author of Hunt: Edge of Empire

Eleanor Swift-Hook’s first book The Mercenary’s Blade is an immersive and historically rich novel that from the first page transports the reader to England at the outset of the English Civil War. 

The story grabs you from the very first line and keeps your attention throughout. Swift-Hook artfully crafts characters with complex thoughts, feelings and backgrounds that begin to unravel as the story becomes darker. She has managed to achieve what is often a very difficult balance for a fiction writer, to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, language, clothing and armament of the time but in a very light-touch way, so that the reader barely notices. It is one of the few books this year that I found difficult to put down. Highly recommended. 

Steven Veerapen

Steven Veerapen

Author of The Queen’s Fire

The early 2020s has, for whatever reason, seen a Renaissance of the Stuarts in both fiction and nonfiction. This is great news for history fans, and it’s resulted in a flurry of unmissable titles. A new favourite – and an author to watch – is Julie Maxwell’s The Image of the King a phenomenal fictional treatment of the Civil Wars, as seen through the eyes of Charles I and the poet John Milton. Maxwell’s talent for characterisation and her depth of knowledge of early modern literature make this perfect for fans of historical and literary fiction. 

For those who like their novels dark, bloody, and set in more recent periods, I’d recommend R. N. Morris’s The Crimson Child: a brutal, painstakingly researched crime novel set in an incredibly-realised Imperial Russia. This is the second in Morris’s Virginsky novels and hopefully not the last. If you want to feel the chill wind whistling through the dark streets of St Peterburg and see the blood leaching into the snowbanks, this is the tale for you. 

Summer Reads from Sharpe Books.