Shona MacLean – Crucible of Secrets

I’ve just finished reading the latest book by Shona MacLean and I am glad to see that she’s back on form. MacLean’s first book The Redemption of Alexander Seaton was in my opinion the best historical thriller of 2009. Set in seventeenth century Scotland, the plot centred on the character of Alexander Seaton, a disgraced minister, embarking on a journey around the country to avenge his friend’s murder. The author’s follow-up book moved the action to northern Ireland and she seemed less sure of her setting. In the Crucible of Secrets the action moves back to Scotland, to the university town of Aberdeen, and the historical landscape once more comes alive.

The book has everything I would expect from a MacLean novel – good historical detail, clear prose and a complex plot.  MacLean has a PhD in Scottish history and her knowledge of the period is clearly excellent. I raced to the finish, always a good sign in a crime novel. I remember the author telling Harrogate Crime Festival that she had numerous rejections for her first book before she eventually found a publisher. She is an example to all aspiring authors of how important it is to keep going – she was eventually taken up by the excellent Quercus.

The first post

This is my first post on my new blog and rather than cover all aspects of crime fiction that interests me, in my first post I want to focus on one passion of mine. I’m a crime fiction reviewer for the excellent website There’s never a shortage of books to read but I like to intersperse my reading with my love of authors from the golden age of crime fiction. This doesn’t just mean reading the so-called ‘armchair’ detectives. There was a lot of good stuff written between 1920 and 1960 much of which is now sadly neglected.

If you look on this month’s website, the classic crime section is dedicated to the writer Arthur Upfield. I chose Upfield because he showed that crime fiction didn’t just belong to the English country houses nor to the mean streets of LA. Instead the action is rooted in the landscape of the Australian outback with its traditions and idiosyncracies. I can still pick up the odd Upfield cheaply from second-hand bookshops although a recent dealer told me that he is now becoming collectable. In fact I was outbid on a couple of books this week on e-bay.

I’ve just finished reading my latest find – The Clue of the New Shoe. This edition was published in 1952 and the front cover is everything that I want from a period crime novel – vibrant, lurid and placing me in a period that has long vanished. I have a particular fondness for Pan crime fiction as I grew up reading their Agatha Christie editions. I can’t see a front cover from that series without it taking me right back to my teenage years.

And taking of images, it took me a while to decide on my choice of blog header. Crime, such a popular subject in literature, is rarely portrayed in the art world. This a rare exception, a section from The Murder by Paul Cezanne. I like the fact that you can see the perpetrator’s face, not the victim’s.  More on this in a future post.