Author of the Month

Name: S. G. MacLean

First Novel: The Redemption of Alexander Seaton: Shona MacLean

Most Recent Book: The House of Lamentations

'MacLean immediately immerses you in the time and politics, transporting you back to those turbulent days.'

You thought Damian Seeker was dead? Oh no. For those readers who have been following the career of Damian Seeker as he acts as enforcer to John Thurloe, Oliver Cromwellís Secretary of State and Spymaster, we left Seeker at the bottom of a bear pit, underneath the ferocious bear and apparently well and truly dead. But Thurloe had other plans and after recuperation in secret, Seeker finds himself in disguise as a carpenter in Bruges. There he is tasked with keeping an eye on the nest of Royalist sympathisers who are constantly plotting to restore Charles Stuart to the throne. One of those Royalists has been coerced into acting as one of Seekerís informants, but there is evidence that his activities have not gone unnoticed. A she-intelligencer has been sent out from England to seek out who might be the traitor within the Royalist ranks. Seeker then has instructions to find this mysterious woman and warn his contact.

There is more than one possible candidate for the post and Seeker uses all his past knowledge and the new web of contacts he has made in his role as the English carpenter to work out what is happening. Bruges is the centre of a web of intrigue and deceit and it is not always obvious who is with who and what is the ultimate aim.

Back home in England all is not well in Cromwellís camp. Many of his supporters are unhappy with the way the Protector is assuming the trappings of a King and ignoring the role of parliament. There are factions amongst the dissenters and some of Seekerís old companions are planning to travel to America to achieve freedom. It is a turbulent time. The future of the country is in balance.

As a great fan of Tudor history I came to this series unaware of the complexities of the politics of the Protectorate. I am finding it fascinating and equally as complex. I am intrigued to discover Cromwellís love of Hampton Court. As a frequent visitor to the palace, I have missed the Cromwell connection with the emphasis on the popular Tudor stories.

I am thoroughly enjoying reading about Damian Seeker and his life in 17th century England (and Europe). He has had a chequered career and been responsible for some violence but he has, like James Bond, the ultimate good in view with a Machiavellian approach as to how it is achieved. He is also supremely competent and can be relied upon to extricate himself and others from impossible situations. In these days of uncertainty it is comforting to immerse yourself in a situation where everything is resolved satisfactorily.

There are many interesting characters and sub plots that do interact with the main story. Sister Janet and Father Filippe are involved in a complicated plan to support Catholics in England. A violent husband seeks out his missing wife.

As with all her novels I have read, MacLean immediately immerses you in the time and politics, transporting you back to those turbulent days. This seems to be the last of this series but who knowsÖ Damian Seeker is like a bad pennyÖ

Reviewed by: S.D.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) I really enjoyed the Alexander Seaton series set (mainly) in 17th century Scotland. As this is your specialist field of knowledge why did you move to Cromwellian England for the Damian Seeker series?
The move to England was encouraged by my publisher, principally with the idea of appealing to a wider reader base. I had resisted for a long time, because not only were the Alexander Seaton books rooted in my own historical search, there was also a very strong connection between me and the milieu of my main character Ė we had gone to the same university (albeit over 360 years apart), and we had lived in the same town (Banff); those connections just werenít there for me in England, and I didnít think I could write authentically without them. But then the spark for the Seeker books came, quite suddenly, when I saw something about coffee houses in a documentary on seventeenth century London. Reading contemporary accounts, studying old maps, and finally, walking what was more or less the same street layout of the City of London as had existed in the seventeenth century helped me peel back the layers of history to feel the connection to the London that lay beneath. I wonít pretend that the thought of the amount of new reading I was going to have to do wasnít daunting.
2) Were you able to access the papers of John Thurloe to inform the story lines for the books?
Ah. Not to start with. Living in the north of Scotland and with family and dog-owning responsibilities, my research trip time is limited and I only realised the Thurloe papers were available online once I was a good way through the second book in the Seeker series. Even then, I have a deep-seated dislike, an almost physical aversion to online research. I donít know why, but there it is. I did consult them though for The Bear Pit and House of Lamentations. They are mind-bogglingly vast, and it seems almost incredible that one man could have kept on top of all that Thurloe was more or less keeping on top of. It is little wonder that he was often too ill to work.
3) Do you have a clear plan when you start a novel or are you guided by the characters? And do you ever change history to suit the story?
I have a basic plan, a basic chapter framework, but it always gets significantly expanded, partly because I continue to read and research even after Iíve started the writing, but mainly because, as you suggest, certain characters take me in directions I hadnít thought of in the beginning. In at least three books, I havenít known who the murderer was until 1/2 - 2/3 of the way through (not telling which ones!) No, I donít think I do ever change history to suit the story. Obviously, I invent conversations, put real characters in situations they may never have been in, but I try very consciously to work around the known events of history rather than manipulate them. I canít guarantee I wonít have slipped up somewhere.
4) Is ĎHouse of Lamentationí the last in the Damian Seeker series? If so, where will you focus on next?
Yes, House of Lamentations is the last in the Seeker series, for now at least, although I canít promise Iíll never revisit it in some way. As to where I go next, well thatís been a big issue for me this year. I spent several months working on a non-crime historical novel, something completely different from what Iíve done before, but thatís gone back in the drawer for some other year. This is just the wrong time for me to jump genres. Instead, Iíve started work on another thing that had been flittering around at the back of my mind for a while Ė an eighteenth century tale about a bookseller in Inverness. Murder, spies, Jacobites. Places I can research by bike!
5) My father was a great fan of Alistair MacLean and I grew up loving his books, too. Did your connection to him inspire you to write?
Yes it did. I was always very proud of him and he was very good to me. My grandfather, Alistairís father, had been a kirk minister and Gaelic scholar, who had several devotional works published posthumously. Writing was something that was greatly looked up to in our family, but also something that seemed perfectly possible to do. It was not something that only other people from different backgrounds to mine could aspire to. My parents had the mortifying habit of showing him my school reports, and Uncle Alistair would grill me on my future plans, focusing on writing. His best advice to me was ĎIf an editor ever tells you to change something, you change it. I never change anything, but thatís because Iím me. If you get told to change something, change it.í Itís a great sadness to me that neither he nor my parents lived to see me do it.
6) Do you have a strict timetable for writing? Has lockdown had any effect on how you work?
Because I started writing when my younger children were babies, Iíve always valued every spare minute I have to write. Itís still my Ďme timeí as well as my job. The children are almost all grown up now, only one still at school. Under normal circumstances, once the housework is done (Ďfraid so) and the dog walked, I write for the rest of the school day. Iím never reluctant to go to the study. Lockdown has meant the house is a lot busier through the day now, but I actually have more time to work, because others are available to walk the dog, do a bit of hoovering and, what makes me happiest, to cook tea. I love my family, but boy, do I resent having to stop work to trudge down to the kitchen and cook.
7) With your experience as a writer, what advice would you give to anyone attempting their first novel?
Draft, redraft, put your redraft in a drawer for at least a month then take it out of the drawer and redraft again. Then start sending away your sample chapters.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
Crime fiction was absolutely my go-to genre before I started writing myself. Now, I think because of the experience of being edited (Iíve had the same fairly exacting and very meticulous editor through all 9 books now) I find myself deconstructing crime novels all the time as Iím reading them, and it often spoils the experience. For similar reasons I read very little historical fiction. I still do enjoy some really good crime novels though, and if I were to go to a desert island, I would want with me any one of Craig Russellís Jan Fabel novels (or could I maybe have the whole set, please?), an Agatha Christie (a Miss Marple, so I could reinvent all the characters and give them astonishing backstories. Like Miss Marple, Iíd never be bored), and finally Robert Louis Stevenson - The Master of Ballantrae. If RLS isnít the Great-grandfather of Tartan Noir I donít know who is.