Friday, 19 June 2020

Friday Fiction Feature: Burke in the Land of Silver

For my Friday Fiction Feature this week I am delighted to host Tom Williams as he talks about his series showcasing the adventures of James Florence Burke.

James Florence Burke was born in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1771. In 1792 he joined the French army (then a perfectly legal and not particularly unusual thing for an Irishman to do).  He fought in Santo Domingo (now Haiti) in the West Indies. While he was there, England and France went to war and he found himself facing the British. His regiment was soundly defeated and the men were offered a choice between becoming prisoners of war or transferring to the British Army (again, not that unusual in those days). Burke chose to join the British. His fluency in languages led to him being selected for intelligence work.

In 1804 Burke was sent to Buenos Aires, in the Spanish territory of La Plata, to gather intelligence that might be useful in a British invasion. In the course of his stay there he rode across the Andes to Chile, returning via Bolivia (then Upper Peru), spying all the way.

In 1806, almost certainly guided by intelligence he had produced, the British invaded Buenos Aires. Although the invasion was initially successful, the British eventually had to withdraw. Burke spent some time in Spain, just ahead of the French coup there, and then he returned to Buenos Aires via a short stay in Brazil. In Spain he seems to have had a brief affaire with the queen (not especially shocking given the queen’s reputation) and in Brazil he was involved with her daughter, the Portuguese princess.

With a life as full of adventure and incident, there really wasn’t an awful lot for a novelist to do and the first book I wrote about him, Burke in the Land of Silver, is quite closely based on his life.

Burke’s life after 1809 is less well-recorded, so later books are more the product of invention. All, though, are based around actual historical events. Burke and the Bedouin centres on Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. Burke at Waterloo starts with a little-known attempt on Wellington's life in Paris in 1814.

There are two more books about Burke’s adventures already written and these will be published later in the year. These are Burke in the Peninsula, where he serves in Spain and where his adventures as a spy are loosely based on those of another real character and Burke in Ireland, which is the story of his first work for British intelligence back in 1798.

The Burke books do feature famous battles, but he is not another Richard Sharpe. Burke is, first and foremost, a spy and the books are spy thrillers, albeit historically grounded spy thrillers. They should appeal to anyone who likes exciting stories of cunning, deception and danger, but who appreciates tales with enough real history in to allow you to claim that reading them is vaguely educational.

The first book, Burke in the Land of Silver, has just been published with a beautiful new cover.

Burke and the Bedouin will be published next month, with the next three books following through the summer.


I used to write books for business. Now I write about love and adventure in the 19th century, which is much more fun. In the pre-covid world it used to allow me to pretend that travelling in the Egypt, Spain and South America was research.

I live in London. My main interest is avoiding doing any honest work.

I have a website,, which has details of all my books ( It’s also where you can find my blog, which comes out once a week on Fridays, often with a book review or similar on Tuesdays. I mainly blog about history but there is stuff about writing and general thoughts on life. Occasionally I blog about tango, which is my passion. Rather to my surprise, the tango posts seem particularly popular.

Besides the website, I have a Facebook author page ( and I tweet as @TomCW99.

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