The English Civil War draws to a close. A royalist dragoon, Falkland, awaits execution. He is reprieved because Cromwell hears of his reputation as an investigator whom he can use to investigate mysterious deaths in Devon where a section of the New Model Army is quartered. Falkland discovers a dark demon at work. He does not know who to trust. What is Cromwell’s true motivation, and what part does General Fairfax play? Deas writes a page-turning novel, unpredictable and suspenseful, haunted by intriguing twists and turns.
The setting is a small town occupied by Cromwell’s troops, cut off from England during the winter snows. Royalist youths are conscripted and forced to change side and religion, and families suffer as their homes are occupied. We learn about secret pamphlet printing and discover women publically admonished and cast out into the freezing world beyond. Deas shows that such impassioned armies are trained to put individual thought aside for so-called common good. He integrates history and narrative knowledgeably, with wisdom that shines through in Falkland’s voice based on his experience of the tragedy of war.
The characters are vividly portrayed, three-dimensional and convincing. Falkland is astute and tough. His humanity contrasts with the politicians such as Fairfax and the fanatics who cross his path. We meet the common woman, hair-cropped Kate, the wary of soft-talking yet hardened Warbeck and youthful aloof Carew. A colourful gallery of town characters, dispossessed women and soldiery lurk on the fringes.
The Royalist is written in concise unembellished prose. ‘In the wood the air was still and almost silent. With only a few strides I could have imagined I was anywhere in the world.’ Finally, this novel has a philosophical edge that makes it more than a thriller. It made me think when England was turned upside down by Civil War. I look forward to reading more of Falkland’s adventures and highly recommend The Royalist.