Recollections of Rifleman Harris, (old 95th)

Rifleman Harris book coverBack in the summer I read an interesting historical non-fiction book titled, Recollections of Rifleman Harris, (old 95th). It’s the memoir of  Benjamin Randell Harris during his service the British Army during the Peninsular War Campaign of the Napoleonic Wars.

I downloaded this book from Google Books (for free) because I read that author, Bernard Cornwell, used this memoir as inspiration for the Richard Sharpe series. Since I have enjoyed many of the books in the series, I was curious to read the “source” material.

Rifleman Harris shares his experiences while participating in the 1807 Bombardment of Copenhagen, the Peninsula War in 1808 and the Walcheren Campaign (Netherlands) in 1809. After reading this story I was able to see where Cornwell used Harris’ experiences for his research and story inspiration.

Rifleman Harris first saw action during the Bombardment of Copenhagen. In the book, Sharpe’s Prey, Richard also participates in the 1807 Bombardment of Copenhagen.

In 1808 Harris was sent to Portugal during the Peninsular War Campaign and saw action fighting the French at Rolica and Vimeiro. In the book Sharpe’s Rifles, Sharpe also fights against the French at Roliça and Vimeiro.

I would highly recommend this book, especially if you are fan of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series.


Wikipedia Article: The Recollections of Rifleman Harris

Wikipedia Article: Sharpe (novel series)

Full Text eBook:

The Fort by Bernard Cornwell

I just finished The Fort by Bernard Cornwell. It’s based on the historic battle between the British and American forces from Massachusetts in 1779. The British captured the village of Castine, Maine and started building a fort with the goal of establishing the colony of New Ireland. The Colony of Massachusetts created the Penobscot Expedition to attack the fort and remove the British. The American forces failed miserably.

The story was no “cliff hanger” since I read the history and know how the battle ended. However, it was interesting to read about the leadership issues and bad decisions that led to the expedition’s embarrassing failure.

The Fort by Bernard CornwellThe Wikipedia article tells us, “The Americans landed troops in late July and attempted to establish a siege of Fort George in a series of actions that were seriously hampered by disagreements over control of the expedition between land forces commander Brigadier General Solomon Lovell and the expedition’s overall commander, Commodore Dudley Saltonstall, who was subsequently dismissed from the Navy for ineptness and failure to effectively prosecute the mission.”

When the American forces arrived, the British had not yet finished building Fort George. They were as vulnerable as they were ever going to be. The American forces should have attacked right away.

General Lovell was convinced that he could not attack without naval support from Commodore Saltonstall to engage the British ships in the harbor. Commodore Saltonstall would not attack the British ships in the harbor because he was afraid of cannon fire from the fort and lack of room to maneuver his ships in the confines of the harbor.

General Lovell made a pretty good move by taking the high ground near Fort George and capturing a British artillery battery on Cross Island ( now named Nautilus Island). He screwed up big time when he dug in for a short siege rather than attack right after establishing the beach head. Commodore Saltonstall eventually agreed to attack the British ships in the harbor if Lovell would launch a coordinated land attack on the fort. Saltonstall had just started the navel attack when he got word that the British reinforcements had been sighted in Penobscot Bay. He ordered his ships to turn around at the last minute and prepared to retreat up the Penobscot River. General Lovell was wise enough to abort the land attack and get the troops back to the ships just in time.

The Wikipedia article says, “A committee of inquiry blamed the American failure on poor coordination between land and sea forces and on Commodore Saltonstall’s failure to engage the British naval forces. Saltonstall was declared to be primarily responsible for the debacle, and he was court-martialed, found guilty, and dismissed from military service.” and that, “Peleg Wadsworth, who mitigated the damage by organizing a retreat, was not charged in the court martial.”

One of the interesting facts I picked up while reading this books is that Paul Revere (of the midnight ride) was a member of the Penobscot Expedition. In fact, he was in command of the artillery. As Cornwell tells the story, Revere only played a minor part of the leadership problem that doomed the expedition. However, he did not conduct himself as well as he could have. Perhaps he recognized the growing problems and wanted to make it out alive.

Revere and his men were put ashore on the west bank of the Penobscot River. He had to return to Boston by land, which was a long trek in 1779. The Wikipedia article tells us, “Paul Revere, who commanded the artillery in the expedition, was accused of disobedience and cowardice. This resulted in his dismissal from the militia, even though he was later cleared of the charges.”

Previous to reading this book I didn’t know about this battle, so I learned something new about both Maine and Revolutionary War history.

2014 Reading List

It has been another interesting year of reading. I enjoyed some novels from a few favorite authors. I also “discovered” a few new authors to add to my favorites list.

One of the authors I “discovered” this year is Judson Roberts and his Strongbow series. The description from tells us, “an epic tale of one man’s unstoppable quest for justice and vengeance that carries him across the 9th century world of the Vikings.” It’s obvious that Judson Roberts has done his research and extreamly knowledgeable about Danish and “Viking” history and society of the 9th century. The series is as good as Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Series.

Since reading the first book in the series in 2013, The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, I was eagerly awaiting the second one titled, Words of Radiance, released in March of 2014. It was just as good, if not better than The Way of Kings. I am eagerly awaiting book three.

I finally got around to reading  book Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain. I have been a big fan of  his show, No Reservations, for years. Strangely enough, I had not read any of his books.  The book was really good. He is a very good writer. The book provided some insightful background to his shows. I also learned a lot about the restaurant industry. I have a new appreciation how hard it is to work in a restaurant.

I continued to enjoy Paul Kemperkos novels about Aristotle Socarides during the fist half of the year. While on vacation in Key Largo in July, I started reading the The Emerald Scepter thinking it was another Aristotle Socarides mystery.  I was pleasantly surprised that he created a new character named Matt Hawkins. The story is modern day adventure thriller about solving a mystery from the past involving the legendary king, Prester John. I was inspired to do some background research and write a Blog article about my findings.

I read my first Andy McDermott this year titled, The Hunt for Atlantis. The story had lots of action coupled with historical mysteries. Out of the four I have read so far I liked, The Secret of Excalibur the best.

Bernard Cornwell released the 7th book in the Saxon Series titled The Pagan Lord. Uhtred is an older man, still trying to recapture his ancestral family home of Bebbanburg. I was thrilled to read that BBC America is adapting the Saxon Series for a TV mini-series.

I read my first James Rollins novel titled, Excavation. Excellent author and story! The story starts with the discovery of the 500 year old mummified remains of a Franciscan Monk high the Andes mountains. His stories remind me of the novels Michael Crichton use to write, which is high praise.

In the fall, Cussler released his book Havana Storm, which i really enjoyed. The book was so good that I was inspired to do some research about the USS Maine and the Spanish-American War and write a Blog article. I learned a lot about the USS Maine. Especially about the various investigations into the cause of the incident and the salvage operation.

I also read my first Terry Goodkind novel, titled Wizards First Rule, and became hooked on his Sword of truth series. It was a hard story to put down. Once I finished the first one I kept right on going until I finished the third one in the series.

Wanting a break from the fantasy genera, I started The Lost Symbol bu Dan Brown. This is the next book in the Robert Langdon series, following The Da Vinci Code. Although I see many similarities to his other novels, I like this one a lot since it takes place in Washington DC and involves the Masons and all the symbolism and rumors about the organization.

I finished the year by reading the first book in a new series by Brandon Sanderson titled Steelheart. It’s from a series named The Reckoners. it was an excellent story. I immediately ordered the second book in the series titled Firefight, which was just released on January 5th, 2015. I know I will be reading that one in early 2015.

  1. Cool Blue Tomb – Paul Kemprecos
  2. Notorious Nineteen – Janet Evanovich
  3. Death in Deep Water – Paul Kemprecos
  4. Pandora’s Curse – Jack Du Brul
  5. Neptune’s Eye – Paul Kemprecos
  6. River of Ruin – Jack Du Brul
  7. Takedown Twenty – Janet Evanovich
  8. Viking Warrior – Judson Roberts
  9. Feeding Frenzy – Paul Kemprecos
  10. Dragons of the Sea – Judson Roberts
  11. Road to Vengeance – Judson Roberts
  12. Deep Fire Rising – Jack Du Brul
  13. Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson
  14. Bluefin Blues – Paul Kemprecos
  15. The Long Hunt – Judson Roberts
  16. The Mayflower Murders – Paul Kemprecos
  17. Ghostship – Clive Cussler and Graham Brown
  18. Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain
  19. The Hunt for Atlantis – Andy McDermott
  20. The Emerald Scepter – Paul Kempercos
  21. In Search of the Perfect Meal – Anthony Bourdain
  22. The Tomb of Hercules – Andy McDermott
  23. The Pagan Lord (Saxon Tales) – Bernard Cornwell
  24. The Secret of Excalibur – Andy McDermott
  25. The Nasty Bits – Anthony Bourdain
  26. Fletch, Too – Gregory McDonald (re-read)
  27. The Covenant of Genesis – Andy McDermott
  28. Son of Fletch – Gregory McDonald
  29. The Janson Directive – Robert Ludlum
  30. Excavation – James Rollins
  31. Havana Storm – Clive Cussler & Dirk Cussler
  32. Deep Fathom – James Rollins
  33. Wizards First Rule – Terry Goodkind
  34. Stone of Tears – Terry Goodkind
  35. Blood of the Fold – Terry Goodkind
  36. The Lost Symbol – Dan Brown
  37. Steelheart – Brandon Sanderson

Havana Storm and the USS Maine

Clive “pops” Cussler has done it again. Havana Storm is a fantastic Dirk Pitt novel. As usual he has woven a maritime mystery into the plot. This time it was the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898.

I was taught the incident triggered the start of the Spanish-American War. It was never proven if it was an accident or sabotage. Between the novel and some online research of my own I learned a lot about the incident and the history of the USS Maine.Havana Storm


A Wikipedia article explains that the ship’s design was cutting edge when the project was started but delays during construction made the ship obsolete by the time it entered service. One of the things that made the ship obsolete is gun placements and design. Wikipedia explains,

“The two main gun turrets were sponsoned out over the sides of the ship and echeloned to allow both to fire fore and aft. This met the demand at the time of Maine’s design for heavy end-on fire in a ship–to–ship encounter, tactics for which involved ramming the enemy vessel. When approaching the enemy on a ramming course, having all guns trained, end–on, would theoretically allow the maximum firepower to be brought to bear and thus the potential for inflicting the greatest amount of damage.[8] The wisdom of this tactic was purely theoretical, at the time it was implemented.”

The Sinking

The Wikipedia article tells us, “Sent to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban revolt against Spain” and that “she exploded suddenly without warning and sank quickly, killing nearly three-quarters of her crew.”

“The cause and responsibility for her sinking remained unclear after a board of inquiry. Nevertheless, popular opinion in the U.S., fanned by inflammatory articles printed in the “Yellow Press” by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, blamed Spain.”

There were several investigations into the incident. Each one coming to a slightly different conclusion.

“On 21 March, the US Naval Court of Inquiry, in Key West, declared that a naval mine caused the explosion.[48]

It’s possible the sinking was an accident since the explosion happened in the forward ammo magazine.

It’s possible that Spanish forces did it since the court declared it was a naval mine. It’s remotely conceivable that the US sabotaged and sacrificed the ship to use as an excuse to go to war with Spain and grab more territory. The thought had also occurred to one the Wikipedia authors.  The Wikipedia article tells us,

“It has been suggested by some that the sinking was a false flag operation conducted by the U.S. This is the official view in Cuba. Cuban officials argue that the U.S. may have deliberately sunk the ship to create a pretext for military action against Spain. The wording on the Maine monument in Havana describes Maine ’​s sailors as “victims sacrificed to the imperialist greed in its fervor to seize control of Cuba”,[75] which “alludes to the theory that U.S. agents deliberately blew up their own ship to create a pretext for declaring war on Spain”.

Although I an not usually one to believer in conspiracy theories, there are several things which cause me to wonder.

  • I would say the US had an agenda in Cuba. As mentioned in Wikipedia, “Spanish–American War (Spanish: Guerra hispano-estadounidense) was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, the result of American intervention in the Cuban War of Independence.”
  • If you had to sacrifice a ship you might as well pick one that is obsolete.
  • Newspapers covering the event used a tactic later became known as “yellow journalism.”


The investigations into the incident could be it’s own Blog article. Wikipedia lists six major investigations have been completed since the incident. There were two done immediately after the incident in 1898. There was one done in 1911 by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. In 1998 National Geographic did one (What took them so long.) Finally in 2002 the History Channel did one.

In 1898 the Spanish inquiry concluded the explosion was caused by spontaneous combustion in the coal bunker. The 1898 joint Spanish and American inquiry said it was a mine.

In 1911 the Rickover investigation was able to examine the wreckage as the Army Corps of Engineers were moving it out of Havana Harbor. They also said an external explosion (like from a mine) occurred.

The 1998 National Geographic investigation did not come out with a definitive conclusion, other than to say the evidence was not “definitive in proving that a mine was the cause of the sinking” although it did “strengthen the case.

The 2002 History Channel investigation concluded, “that a coal bunker fire caused the explosion, and a weakness or gap was identified in the bulkhead separating the coal and powder bunkers, which allowed the fire to spread from the coal bunker to the powder bunker.


The story of the ship did not end with the sinking. It turns out the ship was raised from Havana harbor, moved and re-sunk outside the harbor in deeper water.

The Army Corps of Engineers did the job. They built a coffer dam around the wreck. Pumped the water out, sealed off the damaged bow from the stern and cut away the damaged bow. They filled the coffer dam and floated the ship up to be towed out to sea where it could be sunk away from the shipping traffic. I would say that’s a pretty clever solution!

Book Review

Cussler did a fantastic job with this novel. He used a maritime mystery where the cause was different over several investigations and wove it into his story in a very clever way. As with many Cussler novels (he is my favorite author) I give this one five stars!

The Emerald Scepter by Paul Kemprecos

The Emerald Scepter was one of several books I enjoyed while on vacation in Key Largo.The Emerald Scepter

I had read many of the “Soc” series books by Paul Kemprecos and really enjoyed them. I had thought this was another Aristotle “Soc” Socarides mysteries. I was pleasantly surprised to find this book had a new main character named Matt Hawkins. Hawkins is an ex-SEAL who served in Afghanistan but was injured. He is now building Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUV) at Woods Hole in Massachusetts.

I was hooked when the novel started in 1177 AD with the story of Philip, the physician of Pope Alexander III, who went on a journey to deliver a letter from the Pope to Prester John. Prester John was a fabled king of a Christian kingdom in the near east (Afghanistan region) during the early middle ages. At that point I knew this was one of those stories with a mystery from the past to be solved.

With this novel Kemprecos has taken his stories to a new level. It’s like the type of story that Clive Cussler would write, which is fantastic! It’s a “page turner” with lots of action. I give this book 5 stars. I hope to see more “Matt Hawkins” novels in the future.



The Strongbow Saga by Judson Roberts

Viking Warrior - Strongbow 1I recently discovered a new historical fiction series named the Strongbow Saga by Judson Roberts. The first book in the series is named, Viking Warrior. The Website describes the saga as, “an epic tale of one man’s unstoppable quest for justice and vengeance that carries him across the 9th century world of the Vikings”. It is the story of “Halfdan,  the son of an Irish noblewoman and the Danish chieftain who captured and enslaved her.” Halfdan “has grown up a slave in his own father’s household.” As the story progresses we see Halfdan gain his freedom, receive status in the family, only to lose them after they are betrayed by his step brother, Toke. The book ends with Halfdan making his escape and taking a vow to avenge the death of his half-brother, Harald.

Dragons from the Sea - Strongbow 2Dragons from the Sea and the The Road to Vengeance follows Halfdan as he joins the crew of a Danish longship to “make his fortune” and find a way to keep his oath of vengeance. As a member of the crew Halfdan takes part in the Siege of Paris in 845AD. Towards the end of The Road to Vengence Halfdan manages to get kill one of the men involved in his brothers killing. This is just one of many crew members he has vowed to kill, so he has a long way to go. He still has to face the captain, his step brother, Toke, addition to many other crew members. This tells me there are more books on the way!

The fact that Mr. Roberts uses words and term from the Danish language and that he has a glossary in the book tells me he made efforts use accurate historical information in the story. Visit the Links page on the Judson Roberts Website for lots of great resources about the 9th century and Danish culture.

2013 Reading List

In 2013, I achieved my goal made in 2011, to read all of the Nero Wolfe mysteries in the order they were written. I did not expect it to take this long although I did read other books in between the Wolfe mysteries so as to have a little variety in my reading entertainment. Rex Stout did an excellent job with the series. I am glad I took the time to enjoy them all.

Confess FletchEarly in the year I discovered the book, the Eaters of the Dead by Michael Crichton. There is an interesting story behind his inspiration to write the book, which I wrote about in a previous article titled The Eaters of the Dead / The 13th Warrior.

Mcnallys SecretIt has been a year for re-reading some old favorites that were finally released as an e-book. I was overjoyed to find the Fletch series by Gregory McDonald on e-book. I was even more excited to get the Timothy Cone and Archie McNally stories by Lawrence Sanders.

I also read A Memory of Light, which is the final book in the Wheel of Time series. Brandon Sanderson did a fantastic job completing the epic Week of Time series started by Robert Jordan and tragically cut short when Jordan died of cancer.

MicroI enjoyed a couple more Michael Crichton stories with the books Prey and Micro. Micro is a very intense story about some MIT grad students that get shrunk down to a half inch tall and have to survive in an Hawaiian jungle. This story would make a great movie in the style of Jurassic Park.

I decided to try some books written by a couple of Clive Cussler’s co-authors. I decided to start with Jack Du Brul, who worked with Cussler on several of the Oregon Files series books. Vulcan’s Forge introduces us to Phillip Mercer, who is a mining engineer.

The Way of KingsSince A Memory of Light was so good I decided to try a few other books by Brandon Sanderson. His book, The Way of Kings, was on sale for $2.99. I bought it on an impulse but did not get around to reading it for months. I was inspired to start the book when I discovered a student in one my classes was reading the book.

This is the first book in his Stormlight series. It was fantastic! I have already pre-ordered the next book in the series, due to be released in March of 2014. This led me to try his Mistborn series, which I also give a high rating.

  1. The Final Deduction – Rex Stout
  2. Eaters of the Dead – Michael Crichton
  3. Stonehenge – Bernard Cornwell
  4. 1356 – Bernard Cornwell
  5. Homicide Trinity – Rex Stout
  6. Confess Fletch – Gregory McDonald
  7. Fletch’s Fortune – Gregory McDonald
  8. The Barbary Pirates – William Dietrich
  9. Gambit – Rex Stout
  10. The Mother Hunt – Rex Stout
  11. Fletch and the Widow Bradley – Gregory McDonald
  12. Right to Die – Rex Stout (Published in 1964. 30 years of Wolfe stories)
  13. The Timothy Files – Lawrence Sanders
  14. McNally’s Secret – Lawrence Sanders
  15. McNally’s Luck – Lawrence Sanders
  16. The Doorbell Rang – Rex Stout
  17. McNally’s Risk – Lawrence Sanders
  18. Fletch’s Moxie – Gregory McDonald
  19. Death of a Doxie – Rex Stout
  20. The Father Hunt – Rex Stout
  21. McNally’s Caper – Lawrence Sanders
  22. McNally’s Puzzle – Lawrence Sanders
  23. Death of a Dude – Rex Stout
  24. A Memory of Light – Brandon Sanderson (Robert Jordan)
  25. A Family Affair – Rex Stout
  26. McNally’s Gamble – Lawrence Sanders
  27. McNally’s Dilemma – Lawrence Sanders
  28. Zero Hour – Clive Cussler
  29. Fletch and the Man Who – Gregory McDonald
  30. McNally’s Folly – Lawrence Sanders
  31. McNally’s Chance – Lawrence Sanders
  32. McNally’s Alibi – Lawrence Sanders
  33. Prey – Michael Crichton
  34. Micro – Michael Crichton & Richard Preston
  35. McNally’s Dare – Lawrence Sanders
  36. The Barbed Crown – William Dietrich
  37. Vulcan’s Forge – Jack Du Brul
  38. The Way of Kings – Brandon Sanderson
  39. The Mayan Secrets – Clive Cussler and Thomas Perry
  40. Charon’s Landing – Jack Du Brul
  41. McNally’s Bluff – Lawrence Sanders
  42. Mistborn: The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson
  43. The Well of Ascension – Brandon Sanderson
  44. Mirage – Clive Cussler and Jack Du Brul
  45. Hero of the Ages – Brandon Sanderson
  46. The Medusa Stone – Jack Du Brul

The Eaters of the Dead / The 13th Warrior

The 13th Warrior is one of my favorite movies. I recently discovered that it is based on a book by Michael Crichton named Eaters of the Dead. Upon reading the book I discovered it was unique because of the way it was inspired and written. Crichton tells us in the factual notes section that “it was conceived by a dare.” Crichton’s friend, Kurt Villadsun, claimed that the epic poem Beowulf is a boring tale. Crichton disagrees and feels “it is a dramatic, exciting story – and he could prove it.” (pg. 143)

The way Crichton writes the story is also unique. The first three chapters are based on actual historical account of Ahmad ibn Fadlan, who was a “10th century traveler” and ambassador that traveled from Baghdad north to the Volga River to the land of the “Volga Vikings.” It is in the third chapter that ibn Fadlan describes the funeral of a chieftan, which included a human sacrifice. In the fourth chapter Crichton picks up the story after the funeral and takes ibn Fadlan on a fictional journey with 12 other Norseman on a mission to protect a kingdom from “creatures from the mist.” Much like Beowulf defends a mead hall under attack from the monster Grendel, ibn Fadlan and the 12 Norseman defend a king’s mead hall from the “mist monsters.” Ibn Fadlan’s perspective as an outsider to Norseman culture gives him a unique viewpoint to narrate the story.

I would say that Crichton is correct that he can tell a story with the same basic plot concept as Beowulf  and make it very entertaining if written for the modern reader. It is the fact that Beowulf is written in Alliterative verse that makes it “boring” or difficult to read for the modern reader. Eaters of the Dead and The 13th Warrior use a similar plot and drama elements as Beowulf and are very entertaining stories. I noticed the movie Outlander is a variation of the same plot where an outsider (from space) joins a group of warriors to defend a mead hall (and its people) from a monster (also from space) to give the story a nice sci-fi twist.

I really enjoyed Crichton’s introduction to Eaters of the Dead where he explains the history of “ibn Fadlan manuscript” and the various sources that experts have assembled to produce the modern translation of his journey and observations. He tells us the manuscript “is the earliest known eyewitness account of Viking life and society.” (pg. 7) He goes on to explain “the original manuscript has long since disappeared, and to reconstruct it we must rely on partial fragments preserved in later sources.” (pg. 7) Much of the original report is gone forever and I suppose we are lucky to have the fragments we do have.

2012 Reading List

I enjoyed the opportunity to do a lot of reading in 2012. Although I read 52 books it was a short list of authors, with two of them being new discoveries to me.

Plot it YourselfI continued on my quest to read all of the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout. So far I am up to the book Too Many Clients, which is the 34th in the series and published in 1960. Some of the better stories involve Wolfe doing things totally out of character like leaving the house, disappearing or going on a long trip. Wolfe actually disappeared and went undercover in the book, In the Best Families. He lost lots of weight and changed his appearance while going undercover in his efforts to defeat crime boss Arnold Zeck. Wolfe and Archie actually traveled to Wolfe’s homeland of Montenegro in the book, The Black Mountain. Plot it Yourself was a notable story since the mystery involved the book publishing industry. The plot led to discussion of Wolf’s reading habits. Archie comments that Wolfe reads about 200 books a year. That’s a lot of time reading!

I discovered Bernard Cornwell in 2012 and read 21 of his novels (so far). I have always enjoyed good historical fiction that we well researched and I have no doubt that Cornwell did his research before writing his stories.The Saxon series was so good that I read all of them in addition to several other historical fiction series by Cornwell. Cornwell is best known for his “Richard Sharpe” series, which is about a British soldier during the Napoleonic Wars. To date, there are 24 books in the series. So far I have read through “Sharpe’s Gold” which is the ninth book in the series. I plan to read more of this series in 2013.

The Historical Notes section at the end of each book has given me a theme for several Blog articles this year. I love the fact that he discussed the actual historical events and explains what aspects of the story are fiction and what actually happened. He also discussed various theories about events and directs readers to good non-fiction reading and research resources.

It was not until December when I tried my first William Dietrich novel. I started with Napoleon’s Pyramids, which is the first book in the Ethan Gage series. It did not take many pages before I was hooked. These novels take place in the late seventeen hundreds during Napoleon’s Egyptian military campaign and scientific expedition. Ethan Gage is an American and student of Benjamin Franklin. Gage also has woodsman and and combat experience on the American frontier, which helps him out of many dangerous situations. Much like Cornwell, Dietrich features an historical notes section at the end of each book, which is very educational.

Napoleons PyramidsBetween the Richard Sharpe novels and William Dietrich novels I have learned quite a bit about the Napoleonic era. Sharpe’s adventures at Trafalgar and in Portugal and Spain inspired me to do background research about the actual historical events and even write several Blog posts about the books. The William Dietrich novels inspired me to read more about Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt and “The Levant” (the eastern Mediterranean). Sharpe’s Prey led me to learn more about the Battle of Copenhagen (1807). Sharpe’s Rifles, Sharpe’s Eagle and Sharpe’s Gold inspired me to research the Peninsular War.

  1. Black Orchids – Rex Stout
  2. Tarzan of the Apes – Edgar Rice Burroughs
  3. The Silent Speaker – Rex Stout
  4. Education of a Wandering Man – Louis L’amour
  5. Too Many Women – Rex Stout
  6. And Be a Villain – Rex Stout
  7. The Thief – Clive Cussler
  8. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
  9. The Last Kingdom – Bernard Cornwell
  10. A Pale Horseman – Bernard Cornwell
  11. Lords of the North – Bernard Cornwell
  12. Sword Song – Bernard Cornwell
  13. The Burning Land – Bernard Cornwell
  14. Death of Kings – Bernard Cornwell
  15. The Storm – Clive Cussler
  16. Trouble in Triplicate – Rex Stout
  17. The Second Confession – Rex Stout
  18. Three Doors to Death– Rex Stout
  19. In the Best Families – Rex Stout
  20. Murder by the Book – Rex Stout
  21. Triple Jeopardy – Rex Stout
  22. The Archer’s Tale – Bernard Cornwell
  23. Vagabond – Bernard Cornwell
  24. Heretic – Bernard Cornwell
  25. Prisoner’s Base (British title Out Goes She) – Rex Stout
  26. Sharpe’s Tiger – Bernard Cornwell
  27. Sharpe’s Triumph – Bernard Cornwell
  28. Sharpe’s Fortress – Bernard Cornwell
  29. Agincourt – Bernard Cornwell
  30. Three Men Out – Rex Stout
  31. The Tombs – Clive Cussler
  32. Sharpe’s Trafalgar – Bernard Cornwell
  33. The Black Mountain – Rex Stout
  34. The Winter King – Bernard Cornwell
  35. Sharpe’s Prey – Bernard Cornwell
  36. Enemy of God – Bernard Cornwell
  37. Sharpe’s Rifles – Bernard Cornwell
  38. Excalibur – Bernard Cornwell
  39. Poseidon’s Arrow – Clive & Dirk Cussler
  40. Might As Well Be Dead – Rex Stout
  41. Three for the Chair – Rex Stout
  42. The Hobbit (In preparation for the movie) – J.R.R. Tolkien
  43. Four to Go – Rex Stout
  44. Champagne for One – Rex Stout
  45. Sharpe’s Havoc – Bernard Cornwell
  46. Plot it Yourself – Rex Stout
  47. Sharpe’s Eagle – Bernard Cornwell
  48. Napoleon’s Pyramids – William Dietrich
  49. The Rosetta Key – William Dietrich
  50. Sharpe’s Gold – Bernard Cornwell
  51. The Dakota Cipher – William Dietrich
  52. Too Many Clients – Rex Stout

Sharpe’s Trafalgar by Bernard Cornwell

Reading Sharpe’s Trafalgar and the historical notes at the end of the book allowed me to learn details of the Battle of Trafalgar that I had not known. Although I had heard about the battle, I only knew the basic facts. I knew that Lord Horatio Nelson had used unorthodox navel tactics to win the battle and that he also died from a musket wound received during the fight.

Since Lord Nelson is famous for using the strategy that won the battle I had assumed it was his idea. Not so I discovered. Cromwell writes in the historical notes,

“It is often said that his tactics were revolutionary, and so they were in the context of eighteenth-century naval warfare where the accepted mode of fighting one fleet against another was to form parallel lines of battle and fight it out broadside to broadside. Yet, in 1797, off Camperdown, Admiral Duncan had formed his fleet of sixteen British battleships into two squadrons that he sailed straight into the broadsides of eighteen Dutch ships of the line, and by battle’s end he had captured eleven of those ships and lost none of his own.”

Even though Nelson was not the first to use the tactic, I think he should be given credit for recognizing a good (yet risky) idea and having the nerve to try it himself. English ships would have to endure cannon fire while approaching the French and Spanish without being able to fire back until they sailed through their line. Had the French and Spanish gunners been better, Nelson’s fleet could have been shot to pieces while approaching the French and Spanish ship’s broadside.

Battle of Trafalgar Map

Cornwell explains that the ship Purcell from the novel was fictional.  He tells us, “The Pucelle, when it raked the ship alongside the Victory, was stealing the Temeraire’s thunder.” The Temeraire is the name of the real ship that assisted Lord Nelson’s ship, Victory, during the battle. However, the substitute was a clever way to get Sharpe (and the reader) close to the action near Lord Nelson.

Cornwell did a wonderful job letting the reader experience the Battle of Trafalgar through the eyes of Richard Sharpe. As usual Bernard Cornwell’s historical research is excellent.