BOOK REVIEWS: SHARPE SHOOTER; Read It: SHARPE'S ESCAPE by BERNARD CORNWELL (Harper Collins, Pounds 17.99)

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Byline: ANDREA HENRY

The insubordinate, sarcastic and oversexed Richard Sharpe returns for his landmark 20th adventure. It's 1810 and Cornwell's Napoleonic War hero once again captains the South Essex Light Company, this time as the British defend Portugal against the invading French.

Taking orders from Wellington, Sharpe's at war with 60,000 Frenchmen. Then there's his personal battle with a Portuguese collaborator who's selling food to the French despite Wellington's starvation strategy. There's also Captain Slingsby, a well-connected officer intent on undermining Sharpe's authority.

Sharpe is aided and abetted by his old faithful, Sergeant Harper and an attractive blue-eyed blonde who takes objection to Sharpe's foul mouth but doesn't seem to mind his rough-and-ready machismo.

Cornwell delivers the usual mix of strategy and strength - classic battles scenes and plenty of fisticuffs. He told me why, having sold six million copies in 12 languages, the new Sharpe won't be the last. And why there'll be no sex, please...

When you started the series, did you ever think you'd still be going 20 books later? I thought there might be 10 novels and it surprises me that there are more, but I've no wish to stop. I enjoy writing Sharpe. If I didn't, I'd pack it in. He's a grumpy sod, badly in need of sensitivity training, but I enjoy his company. In truth, he's a villain who happens to fight on our side and I like his villainy.

What did you think of Sean Bean's characterisation of Sharpe? I thought he was terrific. Absolutely wonderful, as were most of the actors in the series. …