Crucible of Secrets
Crucible of Secrets is Shona MacLean’s third novel, all of which feature Alexander Seaton.
The third book of the adventures of Alexander Seaton begins in Aberdeen in 1631. Robert Sim, librarian of Marischal College, is found brutally slain in the college courtyard, and Seaton is asked by the college principal to look into Sim’s private life and discover the motive for this seemingly random killing. Seaton little realises how closely the investigation will involve his own friends and family. As he begins to piece together connections between the hidden places of a town he thought he knew and the lives of the people close to him, he unleashes memories and feelings that would be better hidden. Can Alexander uncover the killer and his perhaps alchemical motives before he is consumed by doubt and puts his marriage and his life into mortal danger?
Crucible of Secrets starts slowly, despite the gruesome discovery of the librarian’s body in the first few pages, and doesn’t really get going until the first quarter has passed. But once it reaches that point, the narrative takes off and allows its many jewels to shine. The period detail is excellent; the Aberdeen of the time is richly imagined, and the dialogue is terrifically subtle. The characterisation too is accomplished with both major and minor characters clearly and enjoyably distinct. While there are passing similarities with Shirley McKay’s Hew Cullan and Matthew Shardlake, the sleuth of C.J. Sansom, Alexander Seaton is an original and complex character in his own right with an eventful history and intriguing psychology. I look forward to reading where his fictional journey will take him.