The House of Lamentations by S.G. MacLean

The House of Lamentations by S.G. MacLean is the fifth book in her Captain Damien Seeker series which ranges over the whole of the Cromwellian era.

It’s widely thought that Captain Damien Seeker had died at the end of the previous Seeker book, but in reality he has moved to Bruges where he has returned to his previous work as a carpenter. It’s a great cover for him as he is able to gain access to places he wouldn’t otherwise have reached.

Bruges has always been a popular place for the Royalist supporters to congregate. King Charles Stuart ( he had been crowned in Scotland after his father’s execution) hasn’t been welcomed elsewhere due to the politics of the time. His Royalist supporters have made themselves very unwelcome in the town as they’ve been spending a lot of their time gambling, drinking and causing trouble. A lot of the exploits centre around the House of Lamentations, a brothel.

Seeker is particularly interested in four of the Royalists, he has been sent information from England that one of them is a traitor to their cause, that puts Seeker himself in danger, but which of them is the turncoat?

Seeker, like many people had been becoming disillusioned with Cromwell’s regime which is as corrupt and nepotistic as the Stuarts’ had been, Cromwell’s cause certainly isn’t worth dying for.

The plot involves nuns and a Jesuit priest who even gives the nuns the creeps. The Jesuits always seem to be the bad guys, even nowadays, especially among old boys who had been taught by them!

I must say that at the beginning of the book there’s a description of a man being hanged drawn and quartered which for me was the most graphic that I had read, but maybe I’ve led a sheltered life.

There’s an author’s note at the back of this book, MacLean explains that she has used a lot of locations in Bruges which can be visited now by tourists, I wish I had known that when we visited the town some years ago, we just did a canal boat trip and walked around admiring the buildings.

The Bear Pit by S.G. MacLean

The Bear Pit by S.G. MacLean was published in 2019 and it’s the fourth in the author’s Captain Damian Seeker series. The setting is 1656, Cromwellian London.

The book begins with a botched attempt on Cromwell’s life, he has become so unpopular because it has become obvious that a large part of his reason for ousting the Stuart dynasty and having King Charles I executed was so that he could have the throne for himself. His regime hasn’t led to improvements in the lives of most of the ordinary people. Damian Seeker is kept busy sniffing out the many plots against Cromwell.

While chasing after one of the would-be assassins, Seeker discovers the horribly mutilated body of a man. He had been shackled to a wall by his neck, it looks like it must have been a bear that had attacked him, but all the bears had been shot on Cromwell’s orders, bear baiting has been banned. Who would do such a thing to an old man? Seeker is determined to track the perpetrator down, he’s a busy man.

I’m still enjoying this series. This one won the CWA Sapere Historical Dagger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Destroying Angel by S.G. MacLean

Destroying Angel by the Scottish author S.G. MacLean was published in 2018 and it’s the third book in the author’s Captain Damian Seeker series.

At the end of the previous book The Black Friar Seeker had been sent to Yorkshire. He’s been banished from London and he isn’t happy about it. When he travels to the village of Faithly on the moors to let the inhabitants know of the most recent anti-Royalist laws, the place is far from its usual quiet backwater. The Trier has been summoned by Abel Sharrock, the gravedigger, but with the advent of the Cromwell era he is also the village Constable and so it was he who had summoned the Trier, to question the local preacher and schoolteacher the Reverend Jenkin. The villagers have no hope that Jenkin will be seen as being innocent of whatever he is supposed to have done.

Bess is a widow and she knows her pub is going to be very busy with people coming to the village for the trial, but she also has to cater for ten dinner guests the night before it, her young ward Gwendolen will help her. Although she’s just young, Gwendolen is the local herbalist and Bess always worries about her being accused of witchcraft, especially with the Trier being so nearby, and the village having more than its fair share of jealous gossips.

Seeker is kept even busier than usual as he’s also supposed to be looking for a man from a local family who hasn’t been seen for four years, but when the Trier and his wife arrive he’s astonished, they’re from his past and he has been looking for them for years.

The blurb on the front of the book says: ‘One of the best writers of historical crime … a fascinatingly flawed hero.’

I don’t know if it was because the action moved out of London and into rural Yorkshire, but I enjoyed this one even more than the previous two in this series which I’m binge reading now because the local lovely librarian ordered them all in for me and I noticed that this one now has two reserves on it.

However, one detail did strike me as being unlikely.

‘Grenade in there, is there? asked Seeker.

‘Of sorts, Captain. And once the pin is out I’d rather be in Mr Thurloe’s camp than the other.’

Some research online came up with this about the history of grenades. Pins on grenades are a very modern invention, they didn’t even exist in World War 1.

 

 

 

 

The Black Friar by S.G. MacLean

The Black Friar by S.G. MacLean was published in 2016 and it’s the second book in the author’s Damian Seeker series which begins with The Seeker.

The date is January 1655, the seventh year of Oliver Cromwell’s ‘reign’ and the people are discontented because for ordinary folks things are no better than they had been under the rule of the Stuarts. Seeker is having to deal with rebellious Royalist plots from abroad and disgruntled one time supporters of Cromwell.

Fanatical religious sects are springing up, most of them are based on the book of Daniel and they’re all more than a bit strange. It seems like desperation to me, but it is all very authentic and historically correct.

When a perfectly preserved body in the clothing of a Dominican friar is found to have been bricked up in the crumbling Blackfriars Monastery some people think it’s some kind of miracle, but Damian Seeker knows better. He recognises the body as  a man who had been working for him, and the reason the victim’s body is still fairly fresh is because he hasn’t been dead long, so it’s no miracle.

Some children have been disappearing from the streets of London, is it something to do with the murdered man? As Captain of Cromwell’s Guard Damian Seeker is kept very busy in this one, he’s well able to see that most of the ordinary people are actually worse off under Cromwell, or certainly no better off.

Shona (S.G.) MacLean has a PhD in 16th and 17th century history so presumably she gets the details correct. It’s interesting to see that women could have a prominent/ leading position as preachers in religious sects, something that seems to have gone backwards in more recent times.  If I’m nit-picking I find it unlikely that so many poorer women in these books are able to read and write, but often it’s necessary for the plot so I’m willing to suspend my disbelief.  I’m really enjoying this series and I think I’m learning quite a lot about the era.

 

 

 

 

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore was first published in 2017. It says on the cover ‘The finest novel Dunmore has written.’ Sadly it was also the last one she wrote as she discovered as she was editing the book that she was seriously ill.

The setting is Bristol around the time of the French Revolution. Lizzie Fawkes is a young married woman, her husband John Diner Tredevant is a property developer, he had been married before, to a French woman who had died while visiting France. Lizzie’s mother Julia hadn’t ever really warmed to her son-in-law, but Lizzie had never much liked her step-father Augustus, and she likes him even less when she discovers that her mother is pregnant, at her age it seems far too dangerous.

Julia is well known in Radical circles as she’s a writer of speeches and pamphlets, it’s a dangerous occupation though as the British government is naturally worried about revolutionary acts spreading from France.

There had been a housing boom in Bristol, until the trouble in France makes everybody jittery, they know that war with France is likely, and nobody is interested in buying new houses. Lizzie’s husband is going to be in deep financial trouble, but he’s already causing trouble for Lizzie as he becomes more and more controlling.

This was a great read.

The Guardian review said: ‘A blend of beauty and horror evoked with such breathtaking poetry that it haunts me still.’

The Winter List by S.G. MacLean

The Winter List by S.G. MacLean is a sequel to The Seeker which is set in London in 1654, a time when Oliver Cromwell has taken over and had King Charles I executed.

The Winter List begins in London 1660, the Cromwell era is over and King Charles II is on the throne. Many of those who had supported Cromwell are being hunted down and executed without a trial, there’s a list of regicides who it’s believed had been instrumental in the execution of the king, and Lady Anne Winter, a Royalist spy has been tasked with discovering the innocence or guilt of the suspects.

She travels to York with her Scottish assistant Grizel, she doubles as Lady Anne’s servant but in reality Grizel is good at codebreaking, it’s a very handy talent to have. Manon is the daughter of Damian Seeker and is now married and settled in York with her husband and children. They’re terrified of being accused of being Republicans. Seeker is on the list, he terrified people in Cromwell’s times and the Royalists want to get their own back. Manon’s husband is under suspicion, Lady Anne arranges for Grizel to get work within the heavily pregnant Manon’s household, but that is the least of their problems.

I really liked this one, but I have jumped ahead in the series and will really have to go back and read the others.

 

 

Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff

Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff was published in 1963. The author has written a lot of books for children but this one is for adults, I enjoyed it but felt that it was about 100 pages too long, as often happens, for me there were too many battles, but it was probably a fairly true reflection of life in post-Roman Britain which is the setting, rather than the medieval knights and ladies which have often been part of Arthurian legend. So there’s no Round Table, no Camelot and no romance, it’s a much more brutal and rougher world.  Artos is seduced by Ygerma before he realises she’s his sister. There’s no Lancelot, but Artos is betrayed by another.

Ambrosius, who may have been of royal  Roman descent is leader of the ‘Britons’ and as he has no son of his own he sees Artos (the Bear) as the closest thing he will ever have to a son.  Ambrosius is the High King, but his fighting days are over, he’s just passing on his wisdom now.  They both know that at some point there will be battles with the Saxons and they need to prepare for that. Lord Artos says that they don’t have enough horses and they need to breed bigger war horses, to take on the Saxons, it’ll take years.

This is well written and enjoyable, but as I said, it was a wee bit too long for me. Well I have so many books in my TBR pile.

One thing which sort of annoyed me is that my edition of the book is an American one,  published by Coward-McCann, it has a nice map as the endpapers, but they changed the spellings to American ones, which means that some poor soul had to trawl through the book making the changes. Why bother? Especially as there aren’t that many changes involved, but it jolted me out of  early post-Roman ‘Britain’ to the US – daft as that may seem.

 

 

The Revolt of the Eaglets by Jean Plaidy

The Revolt of the Eaglets by Jean Plaidy was first published in 1977.

The year is 1171 and King Henry Plantagenet is celebrating the arrival of the New Year in Castle Argentan, he’s looking forward to returning to England soon where he’ll be reunited with his long-term mistress Rosamund Clifford. Their affair is common knowledge now since his wife of nineteen years Queen Eleanor discovered it.

When Henry gets word that Thomas a Beckett has been murdered by four of Henry’s men, in Canterbury Cathedral, he’s furious as he knows he will be blamed for it, well in truth he did more or less give the order for the argumentative Thomas to be got rid of. Within two years Thomas has been canonised by the Pope.

Queen Eleanor is a woman scorned. She was a powerful woman before she married Henry, she owns the rich lands of Aquitaine, and she’s determined to set her Plantagenet sons against their father.  Strangely the eldest son Henry has already been crowned, but he has no power and that enrages him.

Meanwhile, King Henry can’t be faithful to any woman, but shockingly he has seduced and impregnated the 11 year old girl who is to marry his son Richard, she’s also the daughter of the French King Louis and King Henry is terrified that her father will discover the secret.

I enjoyed this one although these older historical fiction books often have a more stilted style of writing.

 

 

Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott – The Classics Club spin # 35

I wasn’t too thrilled when I got this book in the Classics Club spin, but I feel that I should read Scott’s novels and putting them on my list is the way to do it for me.

Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott was first published in 1818, but the setting is around about 1715, just before the first Jacobite Rising but the story begins in the south of England, Frank Osbaldistone narrates the tale.

Frank’s father owns a succesful business which he expects Frank as his only child to take over, but Frank has no intention of being tied down to something that he knows he wouldn’t enjoy. He refuses to follow his father into his business, which disappoints and upsets the father so much that he says that Frank must leave home, he’s cutting him off.  His father had been looking forward to the company and friendship of Frank now that he’s an adult. Frank doesn’t really believe that his father will throw him out of the family home, but he does, he also gives Frank the task of visiting the home of Frank’s uncle and cousins who are strangers to Frank as the senior Osbaldistone brothers had fallen out years ago, due to religious differences. Frank is to ask the eldest cousin Rashleigh to replace him in the family business, Frank almost changes his mind about refusing to work for his father.

Frank travels to their home in the north of England and meets his uncle, six male cousins and their relative the lovely Die Vernon whom Frank falls for. Rashleigh sets off for England and his new position, but eventually Frank hears news that Rashleigh has not been the good and dutiful businessman he has been expected to be, and Frank’s father’s whole business is in danger.

There’s a lot more to the story than this as Frank gets involved with Jacobite Highlanders and Rob Roy MacGregor, whom he had met earlier when he was calling himself Campbell.

I found the beginning of this book really hard going as Scott would never use one word when he could write two hundred, and it makes everything very dense, but towards  the end I felt my way through the fog, (I think) I was glad to reach the end of the 455 pages of quite small print. I think it’ll be a while before I tackle another book by Walter Scott.

When the book was first published it kicked off tourism in Scotland as people wanted to visit the locations mentioned in the book, and that continues to this day. I intend to visit some of the places that I haven’t been to already, but I grew up close to some of the locations. My gran was a MacGregor.

If you’re interested in seeing Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home, have a look at my previous blogposts about it here.

 

The Shadows of London by Andrew Taylor

The Shadows of London by Andrew Taylor was published in 2023. The setting is London, 1671 and it’s a continuation of the Cat and Marwood series.

Architect Cat has a contract to restore an old almshouse, but work has to be stopped on it when a body is discovered.  The face has been mutilated, making it almost impossible to identify the victim. It could be a financial disaster for Cat and others. Marwood is still working at Whitehall and he has the job of investigating the murder.

At court King Charles II has his eyes on yet another mistress, this time she’s a young French woman, Louise de Keroualle, supposedly a virgin.  There’s more to the liaison than just the King’s lust though as it involves European politics, with the French intending to use Louise as a spy in the camp, and presumably to manipulate the King for their own ends.

For some reason the Duke of Buckingham who is the most inflential courtier has taken against Marwood, putting him in danger of his life.

This is the sixth book in the Cat/Marwood series which I have really enjoyed, but for me this one dragged a bit in the middle, I suspect that was because I felt there was too much of Marwood and not enough of Cat.  I’ll still read the next one in the series though, if there is one.

The historical note at the end makes it clear that the Louise and King Charles II episode is historically correct, with many powerful men involved in the seduction of the young woman. The author compares it with the Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein shenanigans, but women have always been used by men – just ask Eve.