Patrick O'Brian has his own category, but if I was blind to the differences in talent, he could belong here.

  1. George MacDonald Fraser: Quartered Safe Out Here describes his part in the Burma war, which is history, not fiction. But Fraser is better known for his Flashman series, and his MacAuslan series of short stories. Flashman made me interested in the history of the British Empire, and there are a good many real historical characters in the Flashman books (Lady Sale, for one; I have found a copy of her memoirs, but I haven't read them yet---I will).
  2. C. S. Forester, for his Hornblower series. Hemingway liked them, and so do I, but I had the misfortune to read them after first reading Patrick O'Brian. They are good, but they don't compare.
  3. Dorothy Dunnett. These books are the hardest to read of any I have ever tried; you bark your shins on an unfamiliar word on every page. What's a barmkin? You need to OED to find out that it is the little castle or fort on the joining of two walls surrounding a real fort. At least that's my memory.