His enemy is, of course, Obadiah Hakeswill. This is one of the few books in which the action is entirely fictional. Yet the book does have some basis in fact, very odd fact. By 1812 a lot of men had deserted from the British, French, Spanish and Portuguese armies and some of them, too many of them, had banded together in the border mountains where they were led by a renegade Frenchman nicknamed Pot-au-Feu. They formed a semi-military group of bandits and their enemies all agreed on one thing – they had to be crushed. Send for Sharpe.
I began writing Sharpe in 1980 and he’s still going strong. I never thought there would be this many books – I imagined there might be ten or eleven – but then along came Sean Bean and the television programmes and I virtually began a whole new Sharpe series.
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In which Sharpe carries his sword (a 1796 pattern Heavy Cavalry sword, an ill-balanced butcher’s blade) to the extraordinary battle outside Salamanca where, to quote an enemy General, Wellington ‘destroyed forty thousand Frenchmen in forty minutes’. Sharpe also has to contend with the Marquesa de Casares el Grande y Melida Sadaba (a bit of all right), a British spymaster and, at the very end, some unbroken French squares.
This is one of my favourite books and it tells the story of the horrifying assault on Badajoz in 1812. The British were in a foul mood, they had been given a hard time by the garrison and suspected that the city’s Spanish inhabitants were French sympathisers, so when they got inside they went berserk. Not a pretty story, but a compelling one, and made better by the baleful reappearance of Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill. This is also, to my mind, the best of the TV programmes.
It’s always said that the second book is the most difficult to write, and I can remember finding it very hard, which is a reason why I’ve never re-read Sharpe’s Gold either. I do remember a splendid scene with Sergeant Patrick Harper and a dungheap and that Sharpe meets the first of his wives while trying to rescue a great pile of Spanish gold. Watching the video is no help in reminding me what’s in the plot because the story on the TV programme bears absolutely no resemblance to the story in the book – weird.
The very first Sharpe book – and if you own an original hardback (of any of the first four or five books) with its dust jacket then take care of it – it’s valuable. I’ve never dared to re-read the book, but so far as I remember it tells the tale of the battle of Talavera and, of course, the plot concerns the need to capture a French ‘eagle’; the battle standard given by Napoleon to each of his fighting regiments.