Book Review: City of Masks (A Somershill Manor Mystery #3), by S.D. Sykes

Publisher:  Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date:  13th July 2017

This third Somershill Manor Mystery has an entirely different vibe to its predecessors. It sails away from the familiar territory of Oswald de Lacy’s manorial commitments in Kent to transport us to the City of Masks, Venice 1358. 

Considerable time has past since our ex-novice monk inherited the title of Lord Somershill and gained respect as an amateur sleuth and we are fast forwarded seven years from The Butcher Bird (book 2) for Oswald to embark on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 

The aim of his journey is to help him recover from an unshakeable melancholy which is manifesting itself at untimely intervals. But it seems no matter how far he travels ,or how long he ignores his responsibilities at home, an oppressive gloom continues to track his hiding places before silently passing judgement.

There’s a real sense of dread for Oswald this time around. He has suffered miserably through no fault of his own and exhibits signs of some very dark thoughts indeed and struggles to face demons that are not revealed until later in the story. The reasons for his predicament were a giant leap from the inexperienced and immature Oswald I’d grown accustomed to during the last two books, so this development came as a bit of a surprise.

Ironically, it’s not due to any religious aspect of the journey that he finds solace. Instead he finds his spirits lift when playing games of dice with dramatic successes. Alas, his low mood is restored when losses mount up and he faces the threat of debt recovery, Venetian thuggery style. 

Of course no voyage is without its minor irritations either. Yes, there’s his mother who has not only encouraged the entire ‘pilgrim ordeal’ but insists on accompanying him every step of the way. As expected she’s her usual tactless self, testing the patience of the company they meet – oh dear, she would be mortified if she knew how Oswald was spending his time and his limited funds!

Their travel plans are also disrupted by the brutal death of the grandson of an old friend the de Lacy’s are staying with during their stopover and the huge question hanging over Oswald is: will his sleuthing skills come in handy and strengthen his resolve, or will he crack under pressure when the ever-watchful authorities takes an interest in his involvement? It’s difficult to call, as his English title, together with the lesser known one of ‘Investigative Genius’ bestowed on him by his mother, are nothing compared to the callous motives of the murderer as the body count rises. I was partially right with their identity but I cannot say any more as this escalated into something I was not remotely anticipating!

This murderous diversion takes a desperately haunted Oswald into the most wretched parts of the city where he encounters unpredictable opposition from all quarters, redefines his people skills, and is pushed toward a darkness he can no longer turn his back on.

First appearances can be deceptive, and the City of Masks is no exception. Whispered secrets slither through a warren of filthy streets and murky waterways to leave a trail from where escape is not an option and discovery is deadly.

I hope there’s a new mystery in the pipeline soon as I adore this medieval crime series and every single character that breathes life into it.

Rating:  5/5

(I requested a copy of this title from the Publisher and NetGalley and received a copy with my thanks, for which it is my pleasure to provide an unbiased review.)

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

A brilliantly dark and compelling novel set in Venice from ‘the medieval CJ Sansom’ (Jeffery Deaver) 1358. Oswald de Lacy, Lord Somershill, is in Venice, awaiting a pilgrim galley to the Holy Land. While the city is under siege from the Hungarians, Oswald lodges with an English merchant, and soon comes under the dangerous spell of the decadent and dazzling island state that sits on the hinge of Europe, where East meets West. Oswald is trying to flee the chilling shadow of something in his past, but when he finds a dead man on the night of the carnival, he is dragged into a murder investigation that takes him deep into the intrigues of this mysterious, paranoid city. Coming up against the feared Signori di Notte, the secret police, Oswald learns that he is not the only one with something to hide. Everybody is watching somebody else, and nobody in Venice is what he or she seems. The masks are not just for the carnival.


(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

SD Sykes now lives in Kent, but grew up in Somerset and South London, before spending many years in the North West of England. She is a graduate from Manchester University, and has a Masters degree in Writing from Sheffield Hallam. She has a passion for medieval history and was inspired to finish her first novel after attending the novel writing course at literary agents, Curtis Brown. She has also written for radio, and has developed screenplays with Arts Council funding.



Book Review: The Black Friar (Damian Seeker 2), by S.G. MacLean

Publisher:  Quercus

Publication Date:    6th October 2016

The Seeker - My Review

Tthe-black-friar-coverhe Black Friar is an impressively tailored historical crime with a tremendous cast, whose contempt and naiveties are exposed with stunning brilliance.

No one can hide from The Seeker and it’s his duty to target anyone who appears on the Cromwell traitor radar. No matter how small the blip, it is documented and stored as evidence to be used against you and Captain Damian Seeker is one of Cromwell’s most effective agents. He bows his tall frame not out of respect to those around him but to prevent striking his head off the beams in properties he’s commissioned to search. Uncomfortable exchanges are no deterrent and he doesn’t walk away until he’s entirely satisfied with the answers they give.

Occasionally he stops by these places to innocently partake in a pie and ale. Yes, even the imposing Seeker has to eat and yet he draws the same looks from the patrons regardless of the reason for his visit – and that look is fear. He never commands silence as a hush falls upon a room as he enters, acknowledgement that he has stepped over their threshold and may inspect their conversations for treacherous slurs.

It’s now January, 1655. Two months have passed since we first met Damian Seeker (Book One) where there was much civil unrest to contend with. The country remains divided with Royalists rallying support for exiled Charles II and Cromwell’s agents rallying their forces to prevent it. The usual gentleman Seeker receives his instructions from has taken to his sickbed and temporary deputies in the form of opportunistic half-wits are trying Seeker’s patience. As they bustle through the corridors that connect the hive of intelligence at Westminster, we learn that the motives of those at the very epicentre of Cromwell’s cause cannot always be trusted.

And nor can the civilians, as public opinion sours by the day; the rich, the poor, pamphleteers stirring trouble through the written word, religious zealots, and agents so deep undercover they risk losing sight of themselves all have a part to play in this phenomenal tome.

A corpse presents further complications, as it was bricked up at Black Friars where Dominican monks have not been present for over a hundred and twenty years posing a quandary for many, including Damien Seeker. The tell-tale signs make it quite clear that the person was alive when they were entombed.

The corpse’s identity is the catalyst for the discovery of deeds that are as unpardonable as the plots stewing against the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth himself; the vulnerable are being targeted and even the emotionally resilient Seeker doesn’t like it. Despite their differences of opinion Lady Anne Winter makes a plea to the Captain to help locate her house maid who has vanished. During the course of his investigation into the murder of the ‘Black Friar’ he learns of more disappearances and cannot ignore their significance, or Lady Anne’s complicity in more pressing matters.

Through the labours of cypher cracking, cryptic clues and Seeker’s keen eye for spotting a discreet facial twitch to reveal the slightest lie, the mystery of The Black Friar and the missing children is slowly teased out. During that time, the Captain shows that a cold heart can thaw for the right cause, as beneath his armour and tenacity is a decency and humanity rarely witnessed or practiced by most.

From the anxiety that flickers in people’s eyes to the odours wafting out of a squalid cell, I admire the controlled reactions of the most recognised man in the city and the most misunderstood. I’m now eagerly awaiting the formidable Damian Seeker’s next assignment, which I believe will be his most challenging to date.

Rating:  4.5/5

Note: While this could potentially be read as a standalone, I would suggest starting with The Seeker as this explores the Captain’s relationships with certain members of the cast already established in Book One.

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher and Olivia Mead with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review.)

The Seeker - Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Rebellion in the city, and a Royalist spy in his own ranks – Damian Seeker, Captain of Oliver Cromwell’s guard, must eradicate both in this action-packed historical thriller for fans of CJ Sansom, Rory Clements and The Three Musketeers.

‘MacLean skilfully weaves together the disparate threads of her plot to create a gripping tale of crime and sedition in an unsettled city’ Sunday Times

London, 1655, and Cromwell’s regime is under threat from all sides. Damian Seeker, Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, is all too aware of the danger facing Cromwell. Parliament resents his control of the Army while the Army resents his absolute power.

In the east end of London, a group of religious fanatics plots rebellion. In the midst of all this, a stonemason uncovers a perfectly preserved body dressed in the robes of a Dominican friar, bricked up in a wall in the crumbling Black Friars.

Ill-informed rumours and speculation abound, but Seeker instantly recognises the dead man. What he must discover is why he met such a hideous end, and what his connection was to the children who have started to disappear from around the city. Unravelling these mysteries is challenging enough, and made still harder by the activities of dissenters at home, Royalist plotters abroad and individuals who are not what they seem…


The Seeker - Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Shona (S.G.) MacLean was born in Inverness and brought up in the Scottish Highlands. She obtained an MA and PH.D. in History from Aberdeen University. She began to write fiction while bringing up her four children (and Labrador) on the Banffshire coast. She has now returned to live in the Highlands, where her husband is a head teacher. ‘The Redemption of Alexander Seaton’ was short-listed for both the Saltire first book award and the CWA Historical Dagger; ‘The Seeker’ was winner of the 2015 Historical Dagger.

On dealing with plot problems, characters who’ve gone awol and issues of setting, Shona says, “My search for a solution tends to involve the dog and a pair of wellies. Most things can be solved by a stomp through the woods or along the banks of the Conon river. The dog is much more conducive to this kind of thing than the children, although I have realised that a close reading of my books reveals the true hero of most of them to be a canine (see esp. Alexander Seaton #3, Crucible, and The Seeker and its sequel The Black Friar (out October 2016), passim). Those dogs are, by seventeenth-century necessity, ‘hounds’, but I like to believe that in each of them beats the heart of a Labrador.”

To avoid work altogether, she suggests getting a bike.



Winner of the 2015 CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger:

The Seeker (Book One)

The Seeker by S G Maclean - Kindle Cover

Book Review: The Kill Fee (Poppy Denby Investigates – Book Two) by Fiona Veitch Smith

Publisher:  Lion Hudson

Publication date:  16th September 2016


the-kill-fee-poppy-denby-2The role of Arts and Entertainment Editor for The Globe allows the perky can-do attitude of Poppy Denby to follow some interesting journalistic opportunities, and The Kill Fee is no exception.

Poppy’s appointment gives her exclusive backstage access to mingle with the cast in the spotlight to report the celebrity gossip of the era for her column. Being generally expected to cover theatre reviews or the mere sniff of the remotely ‘sensational’ it’s not every day you would wade into the complexities of Russian politics circulating around displaced Royalty and fellow countrymen – trouble just seems to find Poppy, but occasionally she goes looking for it!

I was over the moon to see most of the regular cast making a return from The Jazz Files (Book One) to offer their support. Given her new reporting career Poppy’s socialite friend, Delilah, is a handy person to know and her feisty Aunt Dot who is famed for her involvement in the Suffragette movement is also a very well-connected lady indeed. And Rollo, the newspaper’s Editor remains small in stature but appears mightier this time round, with his many Americanisms and straight talking that has Poppy’s cheeks flushing frequently! Not to mention her part time romantic involvement with someone who’s often as stubborn as she is.

Added to this existing cast are multiple other characters and locations, all with a vital part to play. Their introductions take place over a period before a precious Fabergé Egg vanishes from an Art Exhibition being covered by the media and I now understand why a character profile section and lovely map awaited me even before the story began, as it could be difficult to keep track of the intricate branches of the Russian family trees if you’re not paying attention at times!

And of course Poppy must chase down the story to its bitter and frighteningly dangerous end, revealing the recent theft is just the tip of an ominous iceberg that deception, murder, theft, and kidnapping are clinging to. As the investigation darkens, a ‘Kill Fee’ raises its ugly head hoping to be tantalising enough to ‘kill’ the story before it is published. And still her church ministering parents haven’t the foggiest idea what she does for a living (not the full extent of it anyway)! Shame on you Miss Denby, but thank goodness your motives are honourable rather than questionable.

Cultural refinement sees a revival once more as historical intricacies of the 1920s are drawn into the story with nods to etiquette, society, food, and attire. All I can say is kudos to the author for the mammoth research and plotting that has taken place to create a epic and lively mystery set in an era of elegance and intrigue.

There are some instances that naturally refer to events in Book One, but they breezily go with the flow of things without making a huge song and dance about it. And while you may not miss out on anything ‘crucial’ by not reading The Jazz Files first, you would be treated to a fuller character background or just the pure delight of reading it if you did.

Rating:  4/5

And here’s my 5 star review of The Jazz Files.

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher and Rhoda Hardie with my thanks, and this is my unbiased review of it.)


Poppy Denby, Arts and Entertainment Editor at The Daily Globe, covers an exhibition of Russian Art, hosted by White Russian refugees, including members of the surviving exiled Romanov Royal family. There is an armed robbery, a guard is shot, and the largest Fabergé Egg in the collection is stolen. The egg itself is valuable, but more so are the secrets it contains within – secrets that could threaten major political powers. Suspects are aplenty, including the former keeper of the Fabergé Egg, a Russian Princess called Selena Romanova Yusopova. The interim Bolshevik Russian ambassador, Vasili Safin inserts himself into the investigation, as he believes the egg – and the other treasures – should all be restored to the Russian people.

Poppy, her editor Rollo, press photographer Daniel, and the other staff of the Globe are delighted to be once again in the middle of a sensational story. But, soon the investigation takes a dark turn when another body is found and an employee of the newspaper becomes a suspect…

The race is on to find both the key and the egg – can they be found before the killer strikes again?



(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Formerly a journalist, Fiona Veitch Smith has written books, theatre plays and screenplays. She is best known though for her novels and children’s picturebooks. ‘The Jazz Files’ is the first novel in her mystery series, Poppy Denby Investigates, and is set in 1920s London. It has been shortlisted for the CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger Award, 2016. Book 2, The Kill Fee, sees Poppy continue to investigate murders and mysteries in the Jazz Age. Published by Lion Fiction.

Her ‘Young David Picturebook’ series (illustrated by Amy Barnes Warmington) is based on the Biblical character of King David when he was a young boy, and her Young Joseph Picturebook series (illustrated by Andy Catling) is about the life of Joseph of the technicoloured coat fame. Published by SPCK.

Her standalone novel, ‘The Peace Garden’, is a romantic thriller set in England and South Africa, published by Crafty Publishing.

She lives with her husband, daughter and two dogs in Newcastle upon Tyne where she lectures in media and scriptwriting at the local universities. She has a passion for cheesecake, Pilates and playing the clarinet – preferably not at the same time!



The Jazz Files (Poppy Denby Investigates – Book 1)

The Jazz Files by Fiona Veitch Smith - Cover only


Book Review: A Proposal To Die For (A #LadyAlkmene Callender Mystery – Book 1), by Vivian Conroy

Publisher:  Carina UK

Publication date:   19th September 2016


a-proposal-to-die-forWhen it’s as charming as A Proposal to Die For mystery and history make the most wonderful combination.

Lady Alkmene Callender is half social butterfly, half wannabe amateur sleuth. Finding too much time on her hands while her globetrotting father investigates his latest botanical obsession, Lady Alkmene has a desire to investigate intriguing situations involving persons in her close circle.

Instead of solely concentrating her efforts on attending functions and reacting appropriately to polite conversation, she shows an unconventional interest in detective pursuits and prefers to expand her knowledge by reading books like ‘Rigor Mortis’.

Unfortunately for Lady Alkmene she has neither the streetwise sense nor life skills to draw swords against people already hardened against the world she has been protected from. Her naivety often impairs her judgement leaving her open to a wide range of predicaments.

Rather than be content with reading the morning’s papers and simply call for more tea upon hearing the news that the wealthy art collector Silas Norwhich has expired, she has already concluded there has been a callous murder, a spot of theft, to be followed by a dash of blackmail. It’s all hearsay, of course. One recently eavesdropped conversation later leaves an American heiress and actress Evelyn Steinbeck firmly in the spotlight which will outshine any of her Broadway appearances.

Events unfold with the impromptu assistance of Anglo/French relations in the form of Jake Dubois, a charming but tough, sharp-tongued journalist, who has also taken and a similar interest in the unofficial case into Norwhich’s death, even though the police think it’s nothing more than a tragic accident. Dubois is a terrific character – where he lives, how he responds, especially to a certain Lady’s interference.

Quite often Alkmene is under the illusion she can match Dubois’s skills as a sleuth, while she’s no push over his background lends a much wiser touch to these matters, generally underlining their interactions with an insult aimed at the Lady’s privileged background.

So, high society mingles with the ‘lower classes’ and by doing so each sees how the other half lives and the issues they contend with daily. Sometimes that divide closes, and at others it widens. But one thing is for sure, regardless of their backgrounds both Dubois and Alkmene actually want the same thing – to catch a potential killer and tie up the loose ends that are unravelling.

A Proposal to Die For is the epitome of its wonderful cover, evoking a sense of period where the art of a good old fashioned mystery can thrive. Here, possessing a title is not simply a lifelong ticket to not launder your own washing, it also leaves you ample leisure time to attend to the right kind of gossip where your connections could come in fairly handy, or may even place you in the line of fire. Thank goodness for that or we wouldn’t have been given the learning curves of a new amateur sleuth on a silver platter, now would we?!

Rating:  4/5

(I was delighted to be approved by the publisher to receive a digital copy of this title from NetGalley. Huge thanks to them, as this was a wonderful read.)

a-proposal-to-die-for-book-summary(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

The first book in the new Lady Alkmene Callender Mystery series.

A murderous beginning.

With her father away in India, Lady Alkmene Callender finds being left to her own devices in London intolerably dull, until the glamorous Broadway star Evelyn Steinbeck arrives in town! Gossip abounds about the New York socialite, but when Ms Steinbeck’s wealthy uncle, Silas Norwhich, is found dead Lady Alkmene finds her interest is piqued. Because this death sounds a lot to her like murder…

Desperate to uncover the truth, Lady Alkmene begins to look into Ms Steinbeck’s past – only to be hampered by the arrival of journalist, Jake Dubois – who believes she is merely an amateur lady-detective meddling in matters she knows nothing about!

But Lady Alkmene refuses to be deterred from the case and together they dig deeper, only to discover that some secrets should never come to light…

The twenties have never been so dangerous.

Don’t miss the next Lady Alkmene Mystery:

1. A Proposal to Die For
2. Diamonds of Death
3. Deadly Treasures



(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Find out more about Vivian Conroy, the daring author of The Lady Alkmene Mysteries.

Vivian Conroy discovered Agatha Christie at 13 and quickly devoured all Poirot and Miss Marple stories. Over time Lord Peter Wimsey and Brother Cadfael joined her favourite sleuths. Even more fun than reading was thinking up her own fog-filled alleys, missing heirs and priceless artifacts. So Vivian created feisty Lady Alkmene and enigmatic reporter Jake Dubois sleuthing in 1920s London and the countryside, first appearing in A PROPOSAL TO DIE FOR (published by Carina UK/Harper Collins).

For the latest #LadyAlkmene, with a dash of dogs and chocolate, follow Vivian on Twitter via @VivWrites.


Book Review: The Unseeing, by Anna Mazzola

Publisher:  Tinder Press

Publication date:  14th July 2016

The Unseeing My Review

The Unseeing by Anna MazzolaIn this intriguing conundrum, the bones of a true Victorian crime are impressively dressed with fictional liberties in an arduous fight for justice. The author’s embellishments may offer an extra twist of the knife to a real murder investigation (The Edgware Road Murder), but undoubtedly The Unseeing is as curious as any you may read.

According to the prosecution one of the accused wears many faces. Sarah Gale: mother, seamstress, victim, nurse, liar, prostitute, haunted by her past. It’s clear that some considerable peeling of layers will be required to reveal the true person behind the wall silence she is hiding behind.

In 1837 she was imprisoned in the hostile, putrid walls of Newgate Prison in London to await her fate among the piercing screams from the other inmates. The male jurors who convicted her decided she was a calculating woman, whose reputation had fallen long ago. Or was this simply a witch hunt to provide an example to others of her gender with ‘loose morals’ ?

After she was incarcerated for aiding and abetting James Greenacre in the grisly murder and dismemberment of Hannah Brown, his wife to be, Greenacre maintained that his lover, Sarah Gale, played no part in the crime. Despite his protest both received the death penalty.

Most are unsympathetic to her situation leaving only a few diehards campaigning for her freedom. All hope of reprieve is lost, that is until she learns that her sentence is to be reviewed. Naïve criminal barrister, Edmund Fleetwood, is appointed to independently re-evaluate the evidence and report his verdict. Although he is keen to make his mark on the legal world, Sarah Gale will test both his professional and personal resolve, as the grey areas of this challenging investigation are quite revealing. I cringed throughout his endeavours when his patronising father breathed down his neck to ensure Edmund puts in a worthy performance of someone afforded such a public responsibility.

In the eyes of the public she is already condemned as callous and despicable, yet Edmund is conflicted as he senses there’s more to her story, she’s just not allowing anyone to see it. During their meetings he gently teases information from her. These interviews offer a sketchy peek into both Sarah’s and Edmund’s parental relationships, but oddly she never volunteers anything that directly helps his investigation, and ultimately herself. The only fact you never doubt is that Gale has been separated from her young son and she feared what would become if him if her sentence was carried out. At the end of his seemingly impossible task I was willing the emotionally exhausted lawyer to draw the right conclusions about so many more things, mainly for his own sake.

The Unseeing is  atmospheric and utterly fascinating. There’s an interesting bonus as the chapters are headed with snippets from the actual trial that took place, with others quoting from newspaper reports to compliment the next step of the journey.  It all combines brilliantly to create a cunning historical mystery, which is certainly worth a look if you get the chance. Nicely done.

Rating:  4/5

(I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.)

The Unseeing Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Set in London in 1837, Anna Mazzola’s THE UNSEEING is the story of Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding. Perfect for any reader of Sarah Waters or Antonia Hodgson.

‘With this intricately woven tale of trust, self-trust and deceit, Anna Mazzola brings a gritty realism to Victorian London. Beautifully written and cleverly plotted, this is a stunning debut, ranked amongst the best’ MANDA SCOTT

After Sarah petitions for mercy, Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to investigate and consider whether justice has been done. Idealistic, but struggling with his own demons, Edmund is determined to seek out the truth. Yet Sarah refuses to help him, neither lying nor adding anything to the evidence gathered in court. Edmund knows she’s hiding something, but needs to discover just why she’s maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone would willingly go to their own death?


The Unseeing Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Anna lives in Camberwell, London, not far from where the murder at the heart of The Unseeing took place. The Unseeing is Anna’s first novel. She is currently working on her second, which is about a collector of folk tales and fairy lore on the Isle of Skye who realises that girls are going missing.

Anna studied English at Pembroke College, Oxford, before becoming a criminal justice solicitor. She divides her time between writing, reading, lawyering, and child-wrangling.




Book Review: The Seeker (Damian Seeker 1) by S.G. MacLean

Publisher: Quercus

Publication date:  Paperback – 19th May 2016

The Seeker - My Review

The Seeker by S G Maclean - Kindle CoverPlotting, government censorship, covert surveillance – we’re wading deep into the territory of warily voicing your opinion against the current leadership skills of one Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, or face experiencing sheer terror at the hands of the law enforcement of the time, namely Cromwell’s agents and particularly one Damian Seeker, who shows little sympathy for others, as his only desire is to extract the truth.

These are desperately scary times. We’re talking 1654, where the locals gather in coffee shops to sample the proprietor’s wares and meet likeminded individuals to talk politics as freely as they dare, and hopefully not be arrested as a result. Putting the world to rights in a clandestine fashion the diehard Royalists continue to chip away at the Commonwealth, while Cromwell’s spies feed off fresh intelligence.

What’s abundantly clear is that we’re visiting a treacherous period in history. This not knowing who to trust business, not even your closest ally, is enough to drive anyone to insanity. People pray their name will not appear on a list that may fall into the infamous Seeker’s possession and be suspected of treason after someone pointed the finger in your direction. The Seeker’s reputation for sniffing out (and snuffing out) alleged traitors of Cromwell precedes him. If he’s not identified from his equally menacing horse, you’ll know he’s around as the atmosphere of a room alters drastically – when he asks you to start talking, you ask ‘yes, Mr Seeker, what would you like to know?’

Appropriately dressed in black, with a discreetly armoured hat (a wise choice given his line of work), his presence strikes fear into all civilians, as Seeker takes his orders very seriously. And yet there’s something about investigating the murder of one of Cromwell’s closest military figures that briefly hints toward another side to him and a past he’d rather forget.

How could someone have the audacity to slip passed the guards? Why would that person chance hanging about the still warm corpse just waiting to be arrested,  let alone a well-known lawyer renowned for having outspoken views? And why abandon years of hard work to commit murder right under Cromwell’s nose? Not only is it out of character for the accused, it’s neither subtle or cleverly plotted. Something smells off to The Seeker and he’s determined to discover why the main suspect fails to co-operate when he’s faced with impending torture, to be followed by a swift execution, if he’s lucky.

Strangely, as the days into the investigation of John Winter’s murder tick by we discover traitorous intent that will blur lines quicker than the wet ink can run on Seeker’s ever-growing list of suspects. Seriously, I was losing track of their loyalties and just about everyone made me twitchy.

As the air fills with coffee grounds, pipe smoke and suspicion, and the pounding hooves of Cromwell’s cronies threaten the peace rather than keep it, there are some wonderful character portrayals to help conjure up the trepidation of the period. John Winter’s widow is behaving consistently bizarrely, so are a few coffee drinkers conspiring over a cup or two. Kent’s Coffee Shop and its owner will fall under close scrutiny leaving a young woman in peril, while the accused’s sister fiercely maintains his innocence, her feisty nature catching The Seeker’s attention. He’s not used to being spoken to in such a forthright manner but he admires her daring, and his reaction under the circumstances is disturbingly endearing considering he’s such an intimidating loner.

The Seeker is an undeniable enigma. Intrigue radiates from him, just like the story itself. The paths are signposted, but the one leading to the truth is incredibly well disguised. All in all, it’s a terrific blend of history and mystery, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading.

Rating: 4/5

(Huge thanks to Olivia Mead of Quercus Publications for organising a paperback copy of this title for review.)

The Seeker - Book Summary

‘The Seeker is Winner of the 2015 CWA Endeavour Historical Dagger’

London, 1654. Oliver Cromwell is at the height of his power and has declared himself Lord Protector. Yet he has many enemies, at home and abroad.

London is a teeming warren of spies and merchants, priests and soldiers, exiles and assassins. One of the web’s most fearsome spiders is Damian Seeker, agent of the Lord Protector. No one knows where Seeker comes from, who his family is, or even his real name. All that is known of him for certain is that he is utterly loyal to Cromwell, and that nothing can be long hidden from him.

In the city, coffee houses are springing up, fashionable places where men may meet to plot and gossip. Suddenly they are ringing with news of a murder. John Winter, hero of Cromwell’s all-powerful army, is dead, and the lawyer, Elias Ellingworth, found standing over the bleeding body, clutching a knife.

Yet despite the damning evidence, Seeker is not convinced of Ellingworth’s guilt. He will stop at nothing to bring the killer to justice: and Seeker knows better than any man where to search.


The Seeker - Author Profile

S.G. MacLean was born in Inverness and brought up in the Scottish Highlands. She obtained an MA and PH.D. in History from Aberdeen University. She began to write fiction while bringing up her four children (and Labrador) on the Banffshire coast. She has now returned to live in the Highlands, where her husband is a head teacher. ‘The Redemption of Alexander Seaton’ was short-listed for both the Saltire first book award and the CWA Historical Dagger; ‘The Seeker’ was winner of the 2015 Historical Dagger.