Novelist and journalist, born in Berkshire, educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. His first novel was A Trick of the Light (1984), but his reputation rests chiefly on a series of skilfully researched novels in which fictional individuals are caught up in large historical events. His ‘French trilogy’ comprises The Girl at the Lion d'Or (1988), which in describing a tragic love affair in rural France encompasses French politics during the 1930s; the hugely popular Birdsong (1993), which recreates the world of sappers on the Western Front in the First World War; and Charlotte Gray (1998), in which the eponymous heroine joins the SOE (Special Operations Executive) in order to look for her lover, a pilot who has gone missing in Nazi‐occupied France. On Green Dolphin Street (2001) is set largely in America during the Cold War era, while later novels such as Human Traces (2005), set in the 19th century, and Engleby (2007), set in the 1970s, explore mental illness. His non‐fiction includes a volume of pastiches, Pistache (2006), and The Fatal Englishman: Three Short Lives (1996), biographical essays, linked by a common theme of the self‐destructive impulse, of the painter Christopher Wood (1901–30), the pilot and author Richard *Hillary, and the journalist Jeremy Wolfenden (1934–65). In 2008, he published a pastiche James Bond adventure novel, Devil May Care.