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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

The Seeker by S.G. MacLean

The Seeker by S.G. MacLean was published in 2015 and it’s the first in her series which is set in Oliver Cromwell’s England.

The setting is London 1654 and there are spies everywhere, especially in the coffee houses that have become popular. Damian Seeker is an Intelligence Officer in Oliver Cromwell’s government and everyone is terrified of him. If you’re arrested by Seeker, it’ll probably be the end for you, his men are brutal.

It’s the sixth year of the English Commonwealth and Oliver Cromwell is king in all but name. He’s just not quite brave or mad enough to have himself crowned and all of the hopes for a more equal society have come to nothing. The Royalists haven’t given up their hopes of reinstating the monarchy and Cromwell lives under the threat of assassination.

But it’s one of Cromwell’s captains who is murdered. John Winter had been a popular officer in the New Model Army, and a young lawyer is found standing over his still bleeding body and holding a knife. It seems obvious that the lawyer is guilty, but The Seeker isn’t convinced, and he is honest enough not to want just anyone as the culprit, it must be the guilty person who pays the price.

Slavery comes into this book with Londoners being grabbed off the streets, sold off and transported to plantations in Barbados. Even children were abducted. The poet John Milton makes an appearance as a spy for Cromwell, something that I certainly didn’t know about, but apparently he was.

This was a good murder mystery with plenty of atmosphere and I think there’s also a lot of history which isn’t often written about. Oliver Cromwell isn’t a popular figure, even among Republicans. It’s quite surprising that the Commonwealth of England lasted as long as it did – just over ten years in total – because just about everything was banned, including Christmas, theatres, bright clothing and make-up. Such a dismal existence was bound to get people down. After Cromwell’s death his son only lasted nine months in power, then Charles II was invited back from his exile and the monarchy was restored.

However, I’m sure there’s still a lot to be written about in this series, so I hope to be reading the next one The Black Friar – soonish.