Review: S G MacLean – The Devil’s Recruit

S G MacLeanThe Devil’s Recruit is the fourth book in the series by Shona (now S G) MacLean featuring the disgraced trainee minister Alexander Seaton. The series has been a bit of a mixed bunch. The excellent first novel, The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, introduced us to the character of Seaton in his native Banff but a trip to Ulster to help his maternal family in book two was less successful. However, the series seems to be back on form and this latest book a worthy addition to the series.

It is now 1635 and the religious conflict in the Holy Roman Empire between Protestants and Catholics, which became known as the Thirty Years War, is being played out across Europe. Many recruits are coming from the British Isles, taking arms on both sides, but Scotland in particular is providing manpower in support of the Scottish princess, Elizabeth of Bohemia. Outside Aberdeen, a recruiting ship is sitting in the harbour casting a shadow over the town. When the son of a Highland Chief, who was Seaton’s student, disappears, it seems that dark forces are at work and that the religious wars have a resonance the extends to the Scottish city.

I’m always interested in historical crime novels with a religious theme. Scottish religious history isn’t something that I know that much about and I was surprised to read about the strong recusant links that existed at that time. MacLean’s books have previously had a strong Protestant feel and Alexander Seaton’s disgust when he stumbles in on a Catholic Mass conveys itself to the reader. The murder plot is fairly complex. Although the missing student seems to the central mystery, in fact there are a number of malevolent forces operating the city which provides a multi-layered and satisfying read.

Alexander Seaton has always been a complex character. In the second book in the series, A Game of SorrowsSeaton has a brief affair that comes back to haunt him in this book. However, his ongoing obsession with his childhood sweetheart has cataclysmic consequences  and it is clear at the end that the series is going to move in a different direction.

I’m sure that fans of MacLean will enjoy The Devil’s Recruit as will those who like solid historical mysteries. I don’t think any of the series has matched the first book for depth and subtlety but I enjoyed the insight into Scottish Catholic history.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

Review: Christopher Brookmyre – When the Devil Drives

Christopher Brookmyre is a writer that I’ve heard on the radio many times and comes highly recommended but I’d yet to read any of his books. My choice of When the Devil Drives was a result of using for the first time ( I think) Amazon’s rating system to choose a book. I deliberately don’t use ratings on my reviews mainly because, if my Goodreads account is anything to go by, most of my reading would be either 3 or 4 stars. However I scoured the Amazon ratings for Brookmyre’s body of works and chose the one with an aggregate of over 4 stars. As it turned out this was a mixed blessing as a bit of simple further research would have revealed that this was the second book in a series. But nevertheless it was a very enjoyable read although I was kicking myself that I didn’t start with the first book Where the Bodies are Buried.

Private investigator Jasmine Sharpe is hired to find Tessa Garion, an aspiring actress who hasn’t been seen since the early 1980s. Her seriously ill sister wants to trace Tessa and Jasmine soon discovers that the absence of tax records since her disappearance means that Tessa is either ‘very rich or very dead’, and suspects the latter. Tessa’s last tax return is related to a brief stint with the Glass Shoe Company, a theatre group where many of the participants have subsequently become famous figures in the entertainment industry. Meanwhile, Detective Superintendent Catherine MacLeod is called to a shooting in a remote Scottish castle. A theatre performance for corporate clients has ended in the shooting of one the principal guests.

It’s been a while since I read a book set in the UK with a private investigator as its main character and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed PI mysteries. Jasmine Sharpe reminded me a little of PD James’s Cordelia Gray but this could well have been because I entered the story in book two where she is taking over the business from her dead employer, her Uncle Jim. The opening chapters gave a new reader like me plenty of background information about how she had arrived at ownership of the business and her work seemed a realistic mix of the mundane set amongst the more glamorous hunt for Tessa Garrion. When Jasmine herself comes under threat she calls up her protector Fallon who still refuses to reveal his precise relationship to Jasmine’s dead mother. Fallon as a character was a satisfying mix of deadly intent and loyalty to Jasmine.

The police investigation of Catherine Macleod was slightly less interesting, mainly I think as the relevance to Jasmine’s investigation wasn’t revealed until late in the book. However the sections involving Catherine did have interesting exchanges with her more relaxed husband on the relationship between explicit video games and violence in the wider society, passages that worked well in contrast to the deaths in the narrative.

There were plenty of twists and turns in the plot to make the resolution of the mystery of Tessa’s disappearance different from other missing persons investigations. If the quality of this book is anything to go by I’m certainly going to read more of Brookmyre’s novels.

I bought my copy of this book.