Hart of Empire, By Saul David

Jihadi warriors threaten to topple Western power in Afghanistan once again. In Kabul, setbacks and blunders in the British battle against an Islamist insurgency call for desperate measures to stop the slide into military failure... We're in 1879, not 2011, and the second of Saul David's period novels to feature mixed-race adventurer Captain George Hart.

When historians turn to popular fiction, these men (and women) who would be king of the charts can misfire badly. But David's creation, with his aura of a less scoundrelly Flashman or a high-Victorian Bond, leads the yarn at a fine gallop.

And David sketches the relevant history fast and true – especially with figures as savoury as the remarkable general "Bobs" Roberts.

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