Book Review: “Burke and the Bedouin” by Tom Williams

This was the first Burke book I heard of, but as it’s the second in the series, I had to read the first installment, Burke in the Land of Silver. I loved it, and eagerly anticipated reading this one.

A bit of background: Burke is like a Napoleonic-era James Bond. (I actually think he’s more like Patrick McGoohan’s “Danger Man,” but hardly anyone remembers that series.) A spy for the British who monitors and sabotages the activities of Britain’s main geopolitical enemy, France.

Unlike Land of Silver, which was based on the true story of the real James Burke, Burke and the Bedouin is a fictionalized account, though most of the major events, such as Napoleon’s army clashing with the Bedouin and the Mamelukes, and the climactic Battle of the Nile, are real, and it is no doubt true that Britain would have had men like Burke present in Egypt.

The book is a bit faster-paced than the first one, and it seemed like there were fewer characters. That’s not a negative, though; just a difference in style. This felt more like an old-fashioned desert adventure story, compared with the political intrigue and machinations of the previous entry. Fortunately, I love a good desert adventure, so that’s all to the good.

And like the previous book, there are definitely times when you have to question just who you should be rooting for. Burke is a very likable protagonist, with a clear sense of personal honor and bravery, so he seems like a straight-up hero… but then you get a scene of him torturing a young French surveyor for information, or spreading sensational lies about the French among the Bedouin. Of course, he’s not doing this randomly–he’s a soldier, in a war. Ugly stuff happens, and people just have to deal with it.

The book does a great job of conveying the sheer brutality of the era. It’s easy to romanticize the Napoleonic wars, especially if you learn it as the history of dashing, larger-than-life figures like Nelson, Wellington, and of course, the Corsican himself. The everyday reality of it was much nastier, and this book captures that well.

If you enjoyed the first one, this book is a worthy sequel. And while it is true this would work as a standalone book, I would strongly recommend reading them in order. Fans of historical fiction, spy thrillers, and adventure books alike should all check out the Burke series.


  1. I was but a lad when Danger Man was about.
    This is a good review and very astute historically, agents and spies of one sort or another have always been around so Burke is a credible person (actually more than Cornwell’s peripatetic hyper-active Sharpe).
    It is also a good point to mention how brutal that era was; there’s a lot of admiring romanticised tosh written about the armies of those days. When it came to treatment of the civilians pillage, abuse and women as mere spoils of wars were commonplace: Napoleon’s being particularly notorious.

  2. Glad you’re enjoying the series. I loved it and have found it useful in my own writing when it involves Brazil and Argentina/

  3. I remember your review of the first book, was planning on getting it then forgot! I blame my sieve-brain… and my age 😉 To be honest, this sounds more interesting but I’ll probably read the first one first, to get to know Mr Burke. Good, succint review, unlike my reviews which tend to ramble on! 😂

    1. I hope you enjoy this series. I agree this one sounded more interesting to me too, but I’m a stickler for reading in order. Fortunately, the first one was excellent, too. 🙂

      And your reviews are great! I love a nice long review I can sink my teeth into. 🙂

  4. They sound a bit like George MacDonald Fraser’s “Flashman” series, of which I am a big fan of. This is the way I enjoy history. Give me someone who does all the research into a period and place, and then sets a well written story in that setting.

    1. I’ve never read “Flashman”, but I’ve heard others make the same comparison when I mention these books. I’ll have to check those out some time.

  5. I’m not a huge Bond fan, but your mention of ‘Danger Man’ does intrigue me as I loved ‘Danger Man’ when it was on TV here [decades ago]. Might give this one a go once I’ve whittled the TBR down a bit. 🙂

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