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on 17 August 2000
I picked up this book in the Tullie House Museum in Carlisle a few months ago and am I glad I did! The story concerns the aristocratic, short-tempered and vain, yet entirely lovable Sir Robert Carey, who comes up from his cousin Queen Elizabeth's Court to Carlisle to be the new Deputy Warden of the English West March. Having been brought up in the frontier town of Berwick, Carey is not quite a fish out of water and surprises all around him with his determination to reinstate justice in the area (Not easy in a place where tradition has been to bribe the warden to ignore certain, ahem, activities!) The tale concerns a dead reiver and Carey's attempts to find out the identity of the real murderer. Chisholm creates brilliant atmosphere and characters, many of them, including Carey, are based on real life figures. What I enjoyed the most though was her realistic characterisations of the interminable, murderous, horse-thieving reivers on the Border. Her female characters are particularly strong, both the "ladies" and the reivers womenfolk. The inner workings of Carey's mind (and the minds of his motely crew of soldiers, especially Sergeant Dodd) had me laughing out loud! Read it and see what you think.
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on 24 June 2013
A great read for those interested in Northern Tudor stories. It did not completely engage me throughout, but still a very good read.

Influenced by George MacDondald Fraser's, The Steel Bonnets, but a much lighter read. I enjoyed more the author's writing on the Reivers' stories rather than her references to Tudor Court. But still a very good muder/mystery well set in its period and its time, if not totally convincingly set in its location.
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on 20 January 2014
An excellent romp through The Borders.
Sadly I found the plot just a little weak & fairly predictable, but enjoyable nevertheless .
The characters are certainly engaging,especially Dodd who hopefully will appear again in The Feast of Knives which I have just ordered.
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on 2 September 2014
I was worried that this book was going to be a romp that did not work. However, I was surprised a really good tight plot, with clear well drawn chracters.
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on 25 September 2011
It is now some fifteen years since I first came across the first of Patricia Finney's Sir Robert Carey novels set in the politically complex Tudor England of the 1590s'. That hasn't stopped me re-reading it almost every year since. Queen Elizabeth's fleet has beaten back the famed Armada and that threat at least for time has diminished and the kingdom basks in relative peace. However the northern border with Scotland it is not so quiet. Murder, cattle reiving and tower burning are all too common occurrences. So one more dead body found in the Debatable Lands shouldn't make that much difference, except when it's a Graham, and the head of that surname has a nasty reputation for vengeance. In to this brewing cauldron of trouble steps Sir Robert Carey newly appointed Deputy Warden of the Western Marches. What Sergeant Dodd of the Carlisle garrison thinks of his new commander probably shouldn't be put in print, but between them Cary and Dodd they have to solve two mysteries the ill timed murder of a Graham and the sudden `Famine of Horses of the title'. Alright that hasn't given away anything that isn't apparent from a quick view of the back cover blurb. As to the quality of the story, in short it is superb. PF Chisholm has a fine grasp of the character's traits, they are all so very human and compelling. Sergeant Dodd for one is the epitome of the dour northern with a wry sense of humour and an intelligence that shouldn't be underrated. As for Cary he comes with a very interesting history, he has to head north to escape his London creditors and recoup the fortune he doesn't have. I'm not give much away in saying that his father Lord Hunsdon is the son of Mary Boleyn and that it is said he bore an uncanny resemblance to Henry VIII. That hint alone should wet your interest. The difficulties and scrapes Robert Carey gets into and his ahh unique `solutions' very much carry the tale along to its not quite expected conclusion. In it all PF Chisholm has worked very hard to recreate the Borders region of the 1590's as a living breathing culture alive with plots, mischief and mayhem. She hasn't stretched facts or come up with wildly improbable story lines like some period writers. Instead this is honestly engaging with a very dry sense of humour. Most of all it's a damned enjoyable romp for anyone who likes historical fiction. And yes it is worth the five stars I gave it!
Regards Gregory House Author of The Liberties of London
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on 9 February 2001
Murder, intrigue and treason - normal life for those living in Carlisle in the year 1592. Escaping from dept and royal disapproval Sir Robert Carey takes up the offer, from his brother-in-law Lord Scrope, to be Deputy Warden of the West March. Within the week of his arrival we have a body in a bed (not it's own), a funeral to arrange, a murderer to find, a kidnap to prevent, besides preventing every horse in the area being reeved. Carey finds no support from those in power and even his troops hold doubtful loyalties.
This book is well written, historically correct, witty one minute and nail bitingly exciting the next. The reader will be swept away like Sir Robert Carey on a 'Hot Trod'. You don't know what a 'Hot Trod' is? Read the book and find out - it is well worth it.
Not only is it an excellent read but even better it's the first in a series. After you have read A Famine of Horses try A Season of Knives, followed by A Surfeit of Guns and finally A Plague of Angels. Enjoy!
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on 17 February 2015
Not really my scene absolute garbage
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on 12 July 2014
I feel very lucky to have had this marvellous book suggested to me, it honestly is one of the best stories I have read in a long time. What has made it particularly interesting for me personally is that I live slap-bang in the middle of virtually all the locations mentioned in the book and it seems obvious to me that P.F.Chisholm has spent a huge amount of time carefully studying the area, its dialect and the rather unorthodox characters (extreme even for that period!)
This really is a fantastic read, and I am eagerly waiting for my children's bedtime so I can enjoy more exciting adventures with the dashing Sir Robert Carey!
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on 3 February 2013
Like the author, I came across Sir Robert Carey through George MacDonald Fraser's 'The Steel Bonnets' some years ago, and subsequently read Carey's own memoirs. When I first saw these books, I had some doubts about a series of who-dun-its based on his character, and wasn't too taken by the look of the cover. But spotting it going cheap on Kindle, and with a holiday coming up, it was time for me discover my mistake - these stories are a really enjoyable read!
The real Robert Carey was born on the outer fringe of royalty, but as a younger son, he lacked the silver spoon in the mouth necessary to support the lifestyle. He was frequently in debt and often had to live by his wits. In his memoirs he recalled travelling on foot from London to Berwick (383 miles in 12 days) to win a substantial bet, and he is best known for his four-day ride to Edinburgh to be the first to break the news that King James had just become the King of England, ostensibly in the hope of advancement, but possibly also related to the court politics of the time. He spent ten years policing the spectacularly lawless English-Scottish borders, which is when 'A Famine of Horses' is set.
P.F.Chisholm has vividly captured both Carey's character and the flavour of the time with a refreshing combination of authenticity and wit. She also has the knack of working in the very well-researched historical background without it seeming contrived.
Reading the other reviews, I see I'm not alone in regretting that there are only five books in the series. This really deserves a far wider readership.
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on 28 January 2013
This is the first of the series and a great introduction. Very well researched by a history graduate, it is also great fun. If you read this one, I guarantee that you will get the rest in the series.
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