Synopsis: London, 1655, and Cromwell’s regime is under threat from all sides. Damian Seeker, Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, is all too aware of the danger facing Cromwell. Parliament resents his control of the Army while the Army resents his absolute power.
In the east of the City of London, a group of religious fanatics plots rebellion. In the midst of all this, a stonemason uncovers a perfectly preserved body dressed in the robes of a Dominican friar, bricked up in a wall in the crumbling Black Friars monastery.
Ill-informed rumours and speculation abound, but Seeker instantly recognises the dead man. What he must discover is why he met such a hideous end, and what his connection was to the children who have started to disappear from around the city.
Unravelling these mysteries is challenging enough, and made still harder by the activities of dissenters at home, Royalist plotters abroad and other individuals who are not what they seem…
Author: S.G MacLean
Title: The Black Friar
Publisher: Quercus Books
I loved the world that S.G MacLean created in The Seeker and jumped at the chance to read the second book when I found it in the library. My initial reaction to The Black Friar is that it is even better than the first!
It all comes down to the characterisations! Seeker has just made it into my list of favourite characters: I love him! Most of London cower before him and if anyone considers opposing the state, they will learn why everyone fears him. But Damian Seeker is a man with a heart of gold, and this book proves it more than the first.
His softness and caring attitude towards Nathaniel shows what kind of man he is. He knows how to handle Nathaniel, and proves that people are only scared of him because it suits his purpose, not because he is a bad man. His determination to find the missing children reinforces that; while they only seem vaguely linked to the plot he is pursuing, Seeker will not rest until the children are rescued.
The dog kept its distance, always ten yards or so behind, when Seeker was on business of the state. It was only when his master walked through London as a carpenter that the animal knew it might acknowledge him.
Under his rough exterior, he feels as deeply as any man. His budding relationship with Maria is placed in the crossfire when her brother continues to run with the wrong crowd. Seeker is split: he loves Maria but knows he cannot be with her without changing who he is, and he’s not prepared to go that far. His reactions are plausible: he’s fought too long to become the man he is to throw it all away again. Glimpses into his backstory help explain how he came to be who he is.
It’s not only Seeker’s character that is strong; all the characters are fleshed out and realistic, even if they only play a minor part. From Lady Anne’s scheming to Gabriel, the coffee boy trying to show his capabilities. Relating and empathising with all of the characters really adds depth and immerses you in this world.
I could write this entire review on how much I love Seeker’s character. But the plot, with all its intricacies and interweaving storylines, is just as much of a catch as the characters. There are several story arcs going on: missing children, a mysterious school teacher, some radicals and a dead man in a wall. For the majority of the story, Seeker is chasing various leads – just as one thing is revealed, something else shows up.
MacLean is brilliant at weaving the plot together. All these things are ultimately linked, but even right at the end, I still wasn’t certain how it all came together. It’s thoroughly entertaining reading a mystery that you can’t predict, where the characters are known for doing rash things that literally means anything could happen! There are good guys. There are bad guys. There are guys (and women!) who pretend to be good but are really bad and vice versa.
I could sing the praises of this book all day. If you like historical fiction and mysteries, The Black Friar is a must!