The Black Friar -S.G MacLean

“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 of the City 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 monastery.  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 other individuals who are not what they seem…”

It is 1655 and Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, faces a direct threat from the Fifth Monarchists – believers who once fought alongside Cromwell against the King but, now that Cromwell has adopted almost regal status, want Cromwell removed, too. To the Puritans there can be no king but Christ. Royalists continue to plot to return the King in Exile and have created a new organisation of Royalist activists, the Sealed Knot.  One of Cromwell’s agents is found dead, wearing a black friar’s habit, entombed while still alive within the ruins of London’s black friars monastery, and Cromwell turns to the inscrutable and charismatic Captain Damian Seeker.  Does this murder have anything to do with the growing number of children that seem to be vanishing off the face of the earth?

The Black Friar follows the first book in this new series by S.G. MacLean, The Seeker, and is a good standalone novel as well as a complete and distinct mystery in its own right.  S.G. MacLean has given us another excellent and complex mystery to enjoy.  I loved the interaction of fiction with history during this book.  The Seeker moves through it all almost like a tall, black-cloaked raven. There is something sinister yet undoubtedly attractive about this man.  All of London turns away when he rides past on his great horse,  and he is feared by every side, but occasionally here the mask slips and I think my heart might have been stolen, just a little.

I thoroughly enjoyed S.G. MacLean’s recreation of London during the Commonwealth.  Neither Royalist nor Puritan is upheld as the ideal, crimes are committed on both sides and sometimes there are other criminals who rise above politics and religion and are purely evil, and it is down to Damien Seeker to unpick this.  The characterisation is great. Damian Seeker is one of the most appealing heroes I’ve come across in a while, and there are a host of other characters on both sides of the political divide who grab our attention.  The reader is presented with a community in turmoil just like the characters in the novel.

Although I normally enjoy historical novels, especially crime ones I did struggle with this one, simply down to the period in which it is set.  The novel clearly written by a historian is well researched and extremely well written giving the reader a wonderful insight to that time in history.  I would like to read more from S.G MacLean, but set in different time frame.  If you enjoy historical fiction this book will be right up your street.

3 stars from me, with thanks to S.G MacLean, Quercus and NetGalley for the ARC in return for an honest review.



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