The Seeker | S.G. MacLean | 2015, Pb 2016 | Quercus | 421p (inc. 19p of extras) | Review copy | Buy the book
Little is known about Damian Seeker but just a look from him is enough to make the innocent tremble with guilt. Above average height, a black cloak trailing behind, and a rimmed hat reinforced by a helmet, this formidable, secretive man is Seeker by name and Seeker by nature.
The year is 1654 and the Commonwealth is well established with Oliver Cromwell at its head. But, with Charles Stuart biding his time on the Continent, waiting for the right moment to reclaim his father’s crown, this is the age of spies. And they are rife, on both sides. Captain Damian Seeker, once a soldier like almost every other Englishman in this age, works for John Thurloe, Cromwell’s master of intelligence, who has recently been fed some information about a possible Royalist plot brewing in one of London’s popular new coffee houses. The rumour coincides with the murder of John Winter, one of Cromwell’s most favoured officers, housed with his wife in an apartment in the Palace at Whitehall. And it is there, on his doorstep, that John Winter is found dead with Elias Ellingworth, a well-known critic of Cromwell, standing over his bloody corpse, a knife in his hand.
But, although Ellingworth seems doomed to a traitor’s death, Seeker is not convinced that all is at it seems, an opinion that is supported by events at the coffee house that evening. Seeker will stop at nothing in his determination to keep the wrong man from the gallows. Woe betide anyone who tries to deceive the Seeker.
The mid-17th century is, with no doubt at all, one of the most fascinating periods of English history and, at the moment, I can’t get enough of it. The Commonwealth, nestled between the Civil War and the Restoration, tantalises. There hasn’t been a period of history like it before or since and my interest in reading this Commonwealth mystery was sparked even further when I visited Cromwell’s house in Ely a couple of weeks ago. I loved The Seeker‘s depiction of Cromwell at the centre of his court, surrounded by royal furnishings and belongings, as powerful as any king. The historical background is wonderful – music, theatre, coffee houses, pamphlets, gatherings. All of these pleasures seem just about to be hanging on in the Commonwealth, just as some Royalists are being allowed to live on quietly. But all of this tolerance is skin deep in this world of secrets, spies, executions and murders.
The character of Damian Seeker is fantastic. He’s enigmatic and sinister but there’s something about him that is deeply appealing. He seems incorruptible. But his past is a mystery along with so many parts of his personality. And that is one of the things that I really enjoyed about this book – the surprises. Characters constantly reveal unexpected sides to them. Nothing and no-one is to be accepted on face value and, while that is exactly the problem facing Seeker, it is also a big reason for the book’s appeal. The clues are there but I did a great job of missing them, loving how the novel developed in so many unexpected ways.
S.G. MacLean’s writing is distinctive and memorable. I found parts of it quite beautiful, complementing perfectly the power of Seeker’s personality and strength of will. The plot is a corker and its historical setting unusual and richly painted. I am so glad that I now have the next novel to read, The Black Friar. This is a series with legs.