What’s it all about?:
Is the young man merely drunk or does his tottering walk suggest something more sinister? When he collapses, vomiting, over the two whores who find him on that dark wet night, they guess rightly that he’s been murdered by poisoning. So begins this gripping tale set in the town of Banff, Scotland in the 1620s. The body of the victim, the apothecary’s nephew, is found in Alexander Seaton’s school house. Seaton is a school master by default, and a persona non-grata in the town – a disgraced would-be minister whose love affair with a local aristocrat’s daughter left him disgraced and deprived of his vocation. He has few friends, so when one of them is accused of the murder, he sets out to solve the crime, embarking on a journey that will uncover witchcraft, cruelty, prejudice and the darkness in men’s souls.It is also a personal quest that leads Alexander to the rediscovery of his faith in God as well as his belief in himself.
What did I think?:
This is the first book in the Alexander Seaton series by British author Shona MacLean, a tale of 17th century Scotland, full of intrigue, mystery and religious fervour. Our main character Alexander is a school master although he would dearly love to be a minister, and was prevented from achieving this by a mistake made when he fell for the “wrong woman.” Things kick off for Alexander when a man whom he knows is found murdered by poisoning in his school room. The previous night, he had seen this man stumbling and calling for help, but he dismissed him as a drunkard so now feels incredibly guilty, and desires to redeem himself by finding the murderer. It does not help that Charles Thom, a friend of Alexander’s is deemed guilty of the crime and is put in prison, so Alexander must work to clear his name and find the true perp.
I have to confess it took me a while to get into this book as there are a lot of characters to take in, and it took me a while until I had figured out just who the “provost,” ballie,” “session clerk,” and “apothecary,” were, as they are sometimes referred to by their title and then referred to by their Christian name in another sentence. Once I had got that under control, I began to appreciate the beautiful style of writing, and the atmosphere of 17th century Scotland that the author creates. Every smell, sight and sound are captured in minute detail for the reader, and I began to get a real picture of life in Scotland at that time, where indivduals could be persecuted for their own beliefs. The style reminded me very much of the Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom which I thoroughly enjoyed and highly recommend. I did not appreciate the mystery of the novel until about halfway through, when more strands of the story come together, and it became slightly more gripping. Would I read the second book in the series? Probably, as Seaton was such an interesting character, and I wouldn’t mind getting to know him a bit better.
Would I recommend it?:
Star rating (out of 5):