SG MacLean

THE BEAR PIT . . . Between the covers

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Political disagreement in modern mainland Britain is largely non-violent, with the dishonorable exceptions of Islamic extremists and – further back – Irish Republican terror. For sure, tempers fray, abuse is hurled and fists are shaken. Just occasionally an egg, or maybe a milkshake, is thrown. You mightn’t think it, given the paroxysms of fury displayed on social media, but sticks and stones are rarely seen. Scottish writer SG MacLean in her series featuring the Cromwellian enforcer Damian Seeker reminds us that we have a violent history.

The Bear PitIn the last of England’s civil wars, forces opposed to King Charles 1st and his belief in the divine right of kings have won the day. 1656. Charles has been dead these seven years and his son, another Charles, has escaped by the skin of his teeth after an abortive military campaign in 1651. He has been given sanctuary ‘across the water’, but his agents still believe they can stir up the population against his father’s nemesis – Oliver Cromwell, The Lord Protector.

In London, Damian Seeker is a formidable foe to those who yearn for the return of the monarchy. He is physically intimidating, has a fearsome reputation for violence but, like many more modern heroes, Seeker has a fragile personal life. To put Seeker into a modern fictional context, he is Jack Reacher and Harry Callaghan in breeches, stockings and with leather gauntlets on his hands. He has a primed and cocked flintlock pistol by his side, but doesn’t trust modern technology. His weapons of choice are his own fists and a brutal medieval mace.

The story begins with the chance discovery of a mutilated corpse in an outhouse south of the river, in Lambeth – the seventeenth century version of 1970s Soho. The dead man was chained and appears to have been savaged by a dog, except that dogs don’t have five razor sharp claws on each paw. Seeker has to accept the impossible truth. The man has been mauled by a bear. But hasn’t bear-baiting been banned, and haven’t the remaining beasts been removed and killed? Like other practices banned by the zealous moral guardians of Cromwell’s government, bear-baiting and dog-fighting have simply – to use a totally anachronistic metaphor – slipped beneath the radar.

While Seeker searches for his bear, he has another major task on his hands. A group of what we now call terrorists is in London, and they mean to cut off the very head of what they view as England’s Hydra by assassinating Oliver Cromwell himself. Rather like Clint Eastwood in In The Line of Fire and Kevin Costner in The Bodyguard, Seeker has one job, and that is to ensure that the No.1 client remains secure. Of course, history MacLeantells us that Seeker succeeds, but along the way SG MacLean (right) makes sure we have a bumpy ride through the mixture of squalor and magnificence that is 17th century London.

McLean’s research is impeccable. She provides us with a clutch of recognisable real-life characters, and even the desperadoes who do their best to kill Cromwell are actual historical figures. She allows herself the luxury of a little what-iffery with the identity of the mysterious Boyes, ringleader of the plot, but this is all great fun and you would have to be a dull old thing not to be carried along with this excellent historical adventure.

The Bear Pit is published by Quercus and is out now. The Fully Booked review of the precious Damien Seeker novel, The Black Friar, is here.


ON MY SHELF …October 2016


Author Emma Kavanagh

The Missing Hours by Emma Kavanagh
No-one can doubt the Welsh author’s background training to write taut crime thrillers. For many years, after gaining her doctorate in Psychology, she trained police firearms officers and military personnel to cope with the aftermath of that crucial moment when the trigger is pulled. In this novel she tackles the story of a woman psychologist who, with her husband, ran a consultancy advising the families of kidnap victims. Selena Cole’s husband is dead, killed in a Brazilian terrorist attack. Now, she goes missing from a children’s playground, while supervising her young daughters. When she returns, 24 hours later, she has no recollection of where she has been or what has happened to her. DC Leah Mackay and D.S Finn Hale must investigate if there is any connection between Selena Cole’s disappearance and a murder. This novel came out in hardback and Kindle earlier in the year, but you can check out the soon-to-be-released paperback version here.

ahx_smallHouse of Bones by Annie Hauxwell
Hauxwell’s flawed heroine Cathy Berlin returns in a mystery which has its roots in an incident in the colonial Far East in 1961. Berlin is not in good shape.

“The blanket of fog shrouding London was a perversion of the season. It drifted in dense clouds across the capital as Catherine Berlin followed a hearse through the grand arch of the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium. She wondered how long it would be before she passed under it feet first.”

As Berlin struggles with her drug addiction, she tries to clear her mind to understand the links between a seemingly motiveless murder, a rich Chinese student with powerful friends, and a decidedly bent Peer of the Realm. The author was born in London’s East End but emigrated as a teenager with her parents to Australia. She has worked as a nurse, a taxi driver and a lawyer, but left the judicial world, to settle as a private detective and screenwriter. She lives in Castlemaine, Victoria, but is regularly in Europe – whether to go on vacation, or because research beckons her here. House of Bones is out now, in Kindle and paperback.

sg-macleanThe Black Friar by S. G. MacLean
Maclean takes is back a good bit further than 1961, and we are in the London of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate. It is 1655, and Cromwell’s rule is threatened by a variety of political and military plots. When a body, clothed in the robes of a Dominican monk, is found walled into the ruins of a monastery, investigator and soldier Damian Seeker soon learns that the corpse is that of an elusive secret agent who worked for John Thurloe – Cromwell’s spymaster. In a city divided by warring religious zealots, and with Royalists conspiring to restore the Stuart monarchy, Seeker must also discover  the fate of a number of abducted children. Shona MacLean, who is the niece of Alistair MacLean, Scotland’s most successful thriller writer and author of Where Eagles Dare, also manages to give a couple of celebrity ‘walk-on’ parts to Andrew Marvell and Samuel Pepys. The Black Friar is available from 6th October.

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