I discovered Nigel Tranter in a 14th Century castle tower, with the gray stones rising all around us, and the chirpy clerk waiting hopefully at her cash register for us to choose from the array of shiny, plastic trinkets, whiskey bottles, and colorful books about Castle Doune.
I don't know why Nigel Tranter caught my eye, but he did: a thick, green book with an archaic painting of Robert the Bruce in a flowing red beard adorning the front. The book was The Bruce Trilogy, a collection of Tranter's three novels about Robert the Bruce. It was so much of what I had gone to Scotland to learn, wrapped up in one giant volume. I considered the price and the exchange rate, and reluctantly left it on the shelf. Within minutes of getting home, I hit amazon and found a used copy for significantly less.
It arrived in days, and for several days afterward, I was lost in the world of Robert the Bruce-- as a hot-headed young man, as the eager, new husband of Elizabeth deBurgh, as both friend and enemy of Edward Longshanks, "The Hammer of the Scots."
In between reading of Bruce living in a cave, hunted by Longshanks, ferrying in secret across swamps, and reigning supreme at Bannockburn against impossible odds, I read up on Nigel Tranter himself. A native of Glasgow, he is a man who deserves far more recognition on our side of the Atlantic. He is a prolific author in the worlds of both fiction and non-fiction. His fiction alone spans from children's books to historical fiction to Westerns and contemporary and adventure novels. His non-fiction is a testament to his love of Scotland, covering castles, counties, and landscapes.
While we all have different opinions of what good historical fiction is, I personally like historical accuracy. There are those authors with reputations for playing fast and loose with historical facts, twisting facts to fit the story they wish to tell. Tranter, by contrast, has a reputation for impeccable research, down to the fine details. There are those storytellers, for instance, who have liked to dramatize the death of Longshanks in ways it didn't actually happen. When you read Tranter's historical fiction, you will read something very close to the historical record, in story form.
Among Tranter's novels, I have only been lucky enough to read The Bruce Trilogy so far, but thoroughly enjoyed the detailed look at one of Scotland's-- I would even say the world's-- greatest men. We see the forces that shaped him, turning him from a reckless young man with a hot temper, to a firm and determined leader, capable of taking on the greatest army the world had ever seen, with his small band of 5 or 6,000, and not only surviving, but triumphing, and turning Scotland's fate.
If you love Scotland or medieval times, I consider The Bruce Trilogy a must read.