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.

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.