The Library

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.


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This means the timing and authenticity are critical to the plots and subplots and can’t be changed to suit the author’s fancy. A journey in Dunnett’s world takes the same amount of time as it did 500 years before. The means of transportation, whether by land or sea, must fit the truth of life in Early Modern terms. There are very few anachronisms though many have searched to find one.


The language employed startles and draws the reader to sublime elation and dark searing agony. Dictionaries are essential reading aids, and in a cacophony of languages at that. A new reader swims in heady rollers linguistic and intellectually. Dunnett plies her craft elegantly and challenges the reader to stretch mental acuity and sensibilities. The lines surge and ebb, crest then sink. You feel the hiss of the surf, taste the salty mist, hear the cry of the birds skimming the water, wince as the brilliant of the sunrise assaults the gaze.


One of Dunnett’s cleverest skills is ‘the list’. A single sentence will illustrate the setting, sectioned by  infinite detail of the content of a ship’s hold, or the colliding sounds of church bells messaging news, or rustle and murmurs of the French court at table.


“And across the water, you would swear you could sniff it all; the cinnamon and the cloves, the frankincense and the honey and the licorice, the nutmeg and citrons, the myrrh and the rosewater from Persia in keg upon keg. You would think you could glimpse, heaped and glimmering, the sapphires and the emeralds and the gauzes woven with gold, the ostrich feathers and the elephant tusks, the gums and the ginger and the coral buttons mynheer Goswin the clerk of the Hanse might be wearing on his jacket next week… The Flanders galleys put into harbor every night in their highly paid voyage from Venice, fanned down the Adriatic by the thick summer airs, drifting into Corfu and Otranto, nosing into and out of Sicily and round the heel of Italy as far as Naples; blowing handsomely across the western gulf to Majorca, and then to the north African coast, and up and round Spain and Portugal, dropping off the small, lucrative loads which were not needed for Bruges; taking on board a little olive oil, some candied orange peel, some scented leather, a trifle of plate and a parrot, some sugar loaves.”

— Niccolò Rising


The reader becomes a player in the plot, anxious to act out the next scene, rushing to the strophe, antistrophe and epode.


Each reading – first, third, tenth, umpteenth – thrills and awes. This is why we adore her.


The Dorothy Dunnett Society can provide further links to reading and study guides, and additional articles in the Society’s quarterly magazine Whispering Gallery.


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.

  1. The Game of Kings, 1961
  2. Queen’s Play, 1964
  3. The Disorderly Knights, 1966
  4. Pawn in Frankincense, 1969
  5. The Ringed Castle, 1971
  6. Checkmate, 1975


King Hereafter


King Hereafter, UK first edition, 1982King 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.

  1. Niccolò Rising, 1986
  2. The Spring of the Ram, 1987
  3. Race of Scorpions, 1989
  4. Scales of Gold,1991
  5. The Unicorn Hunt, 1993
  6. To Lie with Lions, 1995
  7. Caprice and Rondo, 1997
  8. 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.

  1. Dolly and the Singing Bird, 1968 (Alternate Titles: Rum Affair; The Photogenic Soprano
  2. Dolly and the Cookie Bird, 1970 (Alternate Titles: Ibiza Surprise; Murder in the Round)
  3. Dolly and the Doctor Bird, 1971 (Alternate Titles: Operation Nassau; Match for a Murderer)
  4. Dolly and the Starry Bird, 1973 (Alternate Titles: Roman Nights; Murder in Focus)
  5. Dolly and the Nanny Bird, 1976 (Alternate Title: Split Code)
  6. Dolly and the Bird of Paradise, 1983 (Alternate Title: Tropical Issue)
  7. 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


The Dunnett Companion, by Elspeth Morrison, with Dorothy Dunnett

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 Dunnett Companion Volume II, by Elspeth Morrison, with Dorothy Dunnett

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.