MacLean, Shona - 'The Redemption of Alexander Seaton'
A mystery set in 17th century Banff is almost guaranteed to appeal to me. The North East of Scotland is my home turf and I'm growing increasingly fond of historical crime novels. I was surprised then, that this took me so long to get into. It took two attempts before I got past the opening chapters. There was a lot of detail and description in those early chapters and at first they just didn't grab me, but once I got going and into the meat of the plot, I just could not put this book down.
The plot involves the death of a young apprentice apothecary. The discovery of some maps in his possession sets off a trail of suspicion and intrigue, which draws in Alexander Seaton, a schoolmaster in the town. Seaton is a disgraced divinity student, deprived of his vocation by an incident involving a clandestine love affair. This backstory is slowly revealed throughout the book and provides an interesting sub-plot. The main murder plot is complex and enthralling. Is there witchcraft going on here? Was the apothecary involving in espionage and if so, for whom?
Alexander Seaton must find out the truth hidden in the grim backstreets of Banff where no-one is quite what they seem and the old problems of religion and power are everywhere.
What a find this book turned out to be. It has a unique setting and a strong narrative voice. The sense of place was very strong. MacLean manages to evoke those dark, cold, northern rooms very powerfully. If I had one complaint it was that I wanted some maps. I'm quite well acquainted with the geography of the North East of Scotland but I would have liked some maps of both Banff and Aberdeen of that period, and I expect people who are unfamiliar with the area would benefit greatly from their addition. Given that part of the plot revolves around maps, I think the publishers have missed a trick here. Still, it's a really good book and I highly recommend it and I hope that she writes more.
Read another review of THE REDEMPTION OF ALEXANDER SEATON.
Pat Austin, England