Dorothy Dunnett’s literary genius is in the detail. Her extensive academic research into history means that her characters live in a genuine setting, on occasion interacting with actual historic events and figures.
The Lymond Chronicles
The Lymond Chronicles are six novels set in and around 16th century Europe. In a series filled with action, suspense, and romance, they follow the life and career of a Scottish nobleman, Francis Crawford of Lymond. Meticulously researched, the story starts in Scotland but moves to a wide variety of locations, including France, the Ottoman Empire, Malta, England and Russia. The novels feature a cast of compelling original characters and historical figures.
- The Game of Kings, 1961
- Queen’s Play, 1964
- The Disorderly Knights, 1966
- Pawn in Frankincense, 1969
- The Ringed Castle, 1971
- Checkmate, 1975
King Hereafter, a long novel set in Orkney and Scotland in the years just before the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, was, in Dorothy’s eyes, her masterpiece. It is based on the premise that the central historical character Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, and Macbeth were one and the same person.
King Hereafter was exhaustively researched and plunges the reader into 11th century battles, wild landscapes, political intrigue, cruelty, comedy, bloodshed, love and tragedy – and, above all, the formidable young king’s relationship with the sea. This standalone novel was published in 1982 in both the UK and the USA.
A reader’s response to the book.
Learn more about the historical figures in King Hereafter.
The Lymond Poetry
Nearly two hundred songs and poems are alluded to in the six books about Francis Crawford of Lymond. The Lymond Poetry contains Dorothy’s versions and translations of about a quarter of the European love poetry and ballads from the sixteenth century – and before – that appeared in the Lymond Chronicles. The compilation was finalised after Dorothy’s death by Elspeth Morrison and edited by Richenda Todd, published in 2003.
The House of Niccolò
The House of Niccolò is a series of eight novels set in late 15th century Europe. The protagonist of the series is Nicholas de Fleury (Niccolò, Nicholas van der Poele, or Claes), a talented boy of uncertain birth who rises to the heights of European merchant banking and international political intrigue. The series shares many of the locations in the Lymond Chronicles, but also takes in Bruges, Venice, Florence, Geneva, and the Hanseatic League; Burgundy, Flanders, Poland and Muscovy; Iceland; the Iberian Peninsula and Madeira; the Black Sea cities of Trebizond and Caffa; Persia; the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Rhodes; Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula; and West Africa, Timbuktu and the Sahara.
- Niccolò Rising, 1986
- The Spring of the Ram, 1987
- Race of Scorpions, 1989
- Scales of Gold,1991
- The Unicorn Hunt, 1993
- To Lie with Lions, 1995
- Caprice and Rondo, 1997
- Gemini, 2000
Read a little about the historical context of this series.
The Johnson Johnson series
This series of mystery novels was written over a long period, dating from when Dorothy was writing the Lymond Chronicles to just before the publication of the first in the House of Niccolò series. Some Johnson Johnson plot lines were never resolved, and Dorothy left a very brief outline sketch of an eighth novel with her papers. The Dolly of the titles refers to Johnson Johnson’s yacht.
- Dolly and the Singing Bird, 1968 (Alternate Titles: Rum Affair; The Photogenic Soprano
- Dolly and the Cookie Bird, 1970 (Alternate Titles: Ibiza Surprise; Murder in the Round)
- Dolly and the Doctor Bird, 1971 (Alternate Titles: Operation Nassau; Match for a Murderer)
- Dolly and the Starry Bird, 1973 (Alternate Titles: Roman Nights; Murder in Focus)
- Dolly and the Nanny Bird, 1976 (Alternate Title: Split Code)
- Dolly and the Bird of Paradise, 1983 (Alternate Title: Tropical Issue)
- Moroccan Traffic, 1991 (Alternate Title: Send a Fax to the Kasbah)
The Proving Climb
The Proving Climb is a contemporary short story set on the Scottish Isle of St Kilda and was published in the 1973 anthology Scottish Short Stories (Scottish Arts Council, published by Collins: ISBN 0002218518, 1974). The Dorothy Dunnett Society republished it and distributed it to members in 2008 with issue 100 of the quarterly magazine Whispering Gallery, which is still available to buy online. The story displays the classic Dunnett elements of suspense, danger, personal challenge, expert knowledge and, of course, a double twist.
The Scottish Highlands
Together with her husband, Alastair, Dorothy wrote the text for the photography book The Scottish Highlands (photographs: David Paterson), published in 1988. Their personal memories of Scotland are combined with an anecdotal history interwoven with the legends and myths of one of the most beautiful countries on earth. The book follows a path from Argyll and Perthshire, through Speyside and Inverness-shire to the islands of Skye, Mull, Gugha and the Outer Hebrides, and, finally, on to the wildness and captivating emptiness of the northern Highlands – the Summer Isles, Wester Ross, Sutherland and Caithness.
The Dorothy Dunnett Companion
Dorothy helped in the compiling of the The Dorothy Dunnett Companion (1994) and The Dorothy Dunnett Companion II (2002) which were written by Elspeth Morrison. These books provide background information to historical characters and events featured in the Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolò; explanations of classical allusions and literary and other quotations used in the two series; notes to sources of these citations; and many maps.
The second volume, written after the House of Niccolò series was completed, also contains a bibliography of many of the hundreds of primary and secondary sources Dorothy used in her historical research. She herself contributed much more to the second volume than the first, directly authoring many of the entries.