If AN Wilson had written only fiction he would surely be regarded as one of the two or three outstanding English novelists of his generation. But since he published his first novel, The Sweets of Pimlico, way back in 1977 he has not only written more than 20 others, including the delightful five volumes of The Lampitt Chronicles, but at least as many very varied works of non-fiction. These include The Laird of Abbotsford, one of the best books ever written about Sir Walter Scott, and biographies of figures as various as Hilaire Belloc, Tolstoy, Dante, Queen Victoria, Hitler and Charles Darwin. (This last book was slated by many biologists, which suggests it struck a nerve.) He has also been a newspaper columnist, literary editor, and author of television programmes. The consequence of his prolificity is that many of his novels have received less attention than they deserve.