Damian Seeker is a man to be scared of. Especially if you have a secret. And in the time of the Proctectorate, the rule of Oliver Cromwell, there are many, many secrets. Conspiracies abound to restore the Monarchy and the Seeker is there to find them out. His loyalty to Cromwell is without question – and neither is his ability to find the truth.
One night, John Winter, another Cromwell loyalist, visits a coffee house suspected of harbouring traitors. On returning to his house later that night, he is brutally murdered. And while a lawyer, Elias Ellingworth is found standing over the body with a bloody knife in his hand, Seeker is not convinced of his guilt. But as the Tower’s torturers go to work on Elias, Seeker finds himself running out of time to find a murderer and save Cromwell’s life.
The time of Cromwell was an era that, until recently, hasn’t had much coverage in the crime fiction genre. Then, within the space of a year, L C Tyler started the John Grey series (although that has recently moved into the Restoration) and S G Maclean released The Seeker, which went on to win the Historical Dagger for that year. I’ve mentioned before about the lack of coverage that pre-19th century crime fiction tends to get, so I’ve been meaning to get round to this one for ages. In fact it was the release of the second book in the series – review very soon – to prompt me to get round to looking at this one.
It was a strange read. I did take a while to get into it – admittedly, the end of a long-half term has really cut into my attention span for reading – but I found as I read more, it took more and more of a hold on me. The political intrigue of the time is prime fodder for crime fiction and Maclean takes full advantage of it. It does take a little while for the murder plot to take priority over the various subplots, but the slow burn works very effectively.
What was a surprise was what sort of book it was. Seeker comes across as a bit of seventeenth century Jack Reacher for the first section of the book with what seemed to be a noir-esque structure – at one point, a character is beaten to near death, confesses that they’re not actually the murderer, and then dies. Sounds pretty noir to me. But as the book goes on, and we learn a little more about Seeker, things become much more intriguing.
But there’s more going on here – in fact, there’s a fair-play mystery here, and it’s a damn fine one. In fact, it’s got one of the cleverest ideas that I’ve seen for a while. I won’t say any more than that, but this is a classy book that I really enjoyed. An excellent debut for this series – as I said, I’ll be back with a review of The Black Friar very soon – but in the meantime, this is Highly Recommended.