The Black Friar

Written by S.G. MacLean
Review by Gordon O'Sullivan

Following in the forbidding footsteps of The Seeker, winner of the CWA 2015 Historical Dagger, The Black Friar sees Damian Seeker, or the Seeker, continue his efforts to safeguard Oliver Cromwell and the still-fragile Protectorate from internal and external dissent. Seeker must ward off the machinations of former comrades, the Fifth Monarchists, and the plots of Royalist enemies while also investigating a complex mystery involving child snatching, murder and power-hungry rivals.

This second instalment of the Seeker adventures gives the reader an interesting look behind the edifice of the 17th-century Cromwellian state and the unceasing efforts required by its spymasters and spies to keep enemies at bay while also providing the reader a look into the personal world of Damian Seeker. A man who can literally empty a coffee shop by his entrance – such is the power he wields and the fear he inspires – is also a flesh and blood man with a wounded heart and a complicated love life. S.G. MacLean is terrific at balancing Seeker’s personal struggles with the political fires he must put out. She locates that sharp characterisation within a convincing backdrop of 17th-century London and creates an atmosphere of fear and suspicion that is almost a character in its own right. This really is Damian Seeker’s novel; he dominates proceedings, but MacLean also leaves room for the well-drawn supporting cast, including many real figures of the era like George Downing, Andrew Marvell and even an upwardly thrusting Samuel Pepys.

Finally, the plot of this historical mystery is sufficiently labyrinthine to keep the attention focused as the narrative progresses towards a resolution, and the disparate elongated strands are unravelled and tied up satisfactorily. The conclusion of The Black Friar begs only one question, what will Damian Seeker do next, and how soon can we read about it?