Patrick O’Brian was determined that nobody should write his biography. On that (if on nothing else) his son, Richard Russ, takes the same view, believing ‘it is a total irrelevance for the public to know what sort of man my father was. The fact that he was a damn good writer should be enough.’ And so it might have been, at least for a while longer, if O’Brian had remained secretive about his private life. Instead, after decades of resolute refusal to cooperate with the publicity machine, he began to give interviews in the 1990s – very few and very select, but enough for his unauthorised first biographer, Dean King, to claim that his curiosity was justified: ‘By not telling the truth to reporters and to his live audiences in the United States during visits here, O’Brian forfeited the right not to have a closer look taken.’ Nikolai Tolstoy, O’Brian’s stepson, says ‘it was my duty to counter this by describing the Patrick I had known so well’. So he corrects King’s errors and his more sensational allegations, but also confirms the regrettable image of the great writer as a far from great man.