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on 5 April 2014
I've been burned one too many times with great reviews on Amazon of new authors only to find that they are at best inflated, at worst complete rubbish, that I am wary these days and spend as much time reviewing the reviews as I do the books themselves. S G MacLean was definitely worth the gamble. This is a great read, so much so that I have bought the entire series and am currently reading the second book.

Initially, it took me a while to get into this book and there was a moment when I almost gave up but I am very glad that I didn't and went on to discover the joys of some seriously good writing. Set in a period of history that I am not very familiar with, I was intrigued, fascinated and at times horrified by the attitudes of the time with their anti-Catholic sentiments, the witch-hunts, superstitions and the appalling aftermath that results when these are mixed with small-town gossip, pettiness, jealousies and ignorance.

Alexander lives his life trying to keep as low a profile as possible after having fallen at the last hurdle in his desire to become a minister of the Kirk. We learn of his past as he tries to help his friend, accused of murder, prove his innocence. Alexander is a flawed young man but very likeable and honourable. His heart and intentions are definitely in the right place but he is being manipulated by forces that he has no knowledge of. The characters are all very well developed, even those with only a small part to play in the overall story (like the two prostitute sisters) and the writing itself is very atmospheric and full of historical detail which I greatly enjoyed. The unravelling of the murder of the apothecary's assistant takes Alexander on a journey both personal and literal with forays to Aberdeen, the Castle of Straloch and to the cave of the Wise Woman who knows details of his past that are confounding to him. Whilst he is searching for answers to clear his friend, he is also trying to come to terms with his past and find peace for his future The various strands of Alexander's story are well-woven and hugely entertaining. Definitely a debut worth every one of the five stars!
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on 16 August 2017
3.5-4 stars, I couldn't decide.

This was a slow burn of a novel. The setting, Banf in the reign of James VI and I, was extremely unusual, and as a result, it took me a while to get accustomed to the various characters and their place in the town - which really mattered. Alexander Seaton though, I warmed to right away. He's a fallen angel of a man, a man with a real and genuine calling in a world of hypocritical religious zealots, who has fallen from grace rather spectacularly and publicly. Rather than pick himself up, he wears a metaphorical hair shirt and takes every opportunity he can to do himself down, despite the fact that he's clearly one of the few men of integrity in the book. But once I got to grips with the rest of the cast, Alexander wasn't the only character I warmed to - or heartily disliked! It really is a question of persisting, because the rewards are there, in this rich, multi-layered story.

This is a murder mystery. It's also an allegory that could easily be fitted to any number of times and situations, and in that sense it reminded me of Margaret Atwood's Handmaid's Tale - a chilling lesson. But it's also a brilliantly drawn and evocative account of life in an obscure corner of Scotland at a less glamorous period of history.

So why not more stars? Because I did have to work hard at it for a good half of the book. It's not a story you can pick up and put down easily, and there are times when I felt that there was simply too much description - when Alexander journeys from Banf to Aberdeen, for example, I could have done without the street by wynd by vennel directions (which I also hated in the first Peter May book). So different. And rewarding. And I'm glad I read it. The next one is set in Northern Ireland though, and I'm not so sure I fancy that, which is a shame.
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on 30 June 2015
The Redemption of Alexander Seaton does exactly what the title says, it leads us through the redemption of someone who looked set for a future as a minister until they were denied this future. The reason for this denial is not explained until a good way through the book but we first meet Alexander as a grammar school teacher in Banff in 1626, deeply ashamed at his conduct and despondent at his lack of future now he will no longer be a minister, he spends his days teaching and his nights mostly with his friends who try to convince him that he is better than he has become. On one particularly stormy night on his way home from the pub Alexander sees a man who he presumes drunk and who asks him for help. Assuming the man will be ok and wanting to get into the dryness of his lodgings he ignores the man's pleas to the detriment of both for the following morning Alexander finds the man in his own schoolroom, dead at the hand of another. His guilt at refusing to help, and his faith in his friend who is then accused of the murder, lead him to attempt to prove his friend's innocence and find the real murderer. For various reasons (spoilers) Alexander becomes involved in helping those in charge of the town deal with certain things that are later found out about the dead man. While doing this Alexander goes on a journey that, with the introspection which he does throughout the story, leads to the redemption of his character and his belief in himself. The story ends with all loose ends accounted for and a hint at Alexander's future which then continues 2 years later in the second book.

I really enjoyed this book and am very pleased it was suggested by the organiser of the book group I am in otherwise I may never have discovered the writings of Shona MacLean (or S.G. MacLean as she is otherwise known). Although I found the book a bit dense at first it gets better as you get used to it. The descriptions are excellent and I genuinely felt as though I was alongside Alexander Seaton throughout the entire book. The descriptions of the characters, town, smells and noises are so clear that you are transported to that time and place and the religious fears and concerns of invasion come across so clearly that even though I know little of that time I could appreciate how concerned people were and how even the smallest thing could affect how someone was viewed. I will definitely be reading more from Shona MacLean and I sincerely hope she keeps writing such richly detailed and engrossing books
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VINE VOICEHALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERon 15 June 2013
Set in Scotland in 1626, this is an atmospheric and intelligent historical mystery. When we first meet Alexander Seaton he is a man who feels he has lost the respect of both his community and himself. Having been a promising scholar, he had hopes of becoming a minister, only to be humilated and his chances ruined when he was denounced by the father of an old friend. So, when he leaves the inn, where he had been previously drinking with his friends; the doctor James Jaffray and singing master Charles Thom (himself in the throes of despair over a girl who loves another), he wants to be out of the current storm and back in his bed in the schoolhouse - where he is now teaching - to nurse his woes. When a man calls to him for help, he assumes he is in his cups and ignores him, only to find him sprawled, dead across his desk, the next morning.

The man who is dead is Patrick Davidson, Charles Thom's rival in love, making him the prime suspect. When Thom is arrested, Jaffray and Seaton vow to prove his innocence. During this novel, we are taken from the fishing town of Banff, to Aberdeen, the fine castle of the Laird of Straloch, the cave of a woman healer and the shacks of outcast beggars. Seaton must not only discover who killed Patrick Davidson, but try to uncover possible papist plots and, more importantly, come to peace with himself. This really is a very good start to a promising historical mystery series, with a great setting and interesting characters. I look forward to reading more novels featuring Alexander Seaton and the world he inhabits.
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VINE VOICETOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 August 2015
A storm is raging in Banff in the north-east of Scotland as Alexander Seaton makes his way home from the inn so, when he sees a man staggering in the street, Alexander assumes he is the worse for drink and hurries on by to get out of the rain. When the man's dead body is found the next day in the schoolroom where Alexander teaches, his feelings of guilt are compounded when his friend Charles Thom is arrested for the murder. Convinced of Charles' innocence, Alexander sets out with his old friend and mentor, Dr Jaffray, to find out who really murdered Patrick Davidson.

The book is set in 1626, a time when an uneasy peace holds sway in Scotland. All those pesky 16th century Queens are dead and the crowns of Scotland and England are united, though not yet their parliaments. The Protestants are in the ascendancy and the Kirk has a stranglehold on religion and morality, but the Catholics are still plotting, and looking to the great Catholic countries of Europe for support. And witch-hunting is still at its peak, led and encouraged by the more rabid members of the hellfire-and-damnation Kirk, often culminating in public burnings. Happy days!

MacLean has caught the feel of this time-period just about perfectly in my opinion. She gives the impression of knowing the history inside-out and her characters ring true as people living in this time. Seaton and Jaffray are on the more enlightened side, though of course the actual Enlightenment is still some way off, but MacLean doesn't fall into the trap of giving them anachronistically modern viewpoints. So, for example, while being horrified at the attitude of the mob to witch-burnings, they're not quite ready to deny the possibility of witchcraft and consorting with the Devil.

Seaton is the first-person, past-tense narrator of the story and he is a great main character. Destined to be a minister in the Kirk, some event happened that led to his disgrace and he is now back in his home town working as an undermaster in the local school. While his one or two true friends have stood by him, many of the rest of the goodly people of the town treat him almost as a social outcast and his own feelings of guilt have brought him close to despair. The reader doesn't find out what the event was until well on into the novel, but as Seaton gets involved in the investigation into Patrick Davidson's death, he begins to feel again that his life may have some purpose beyond his failed calling to the ministry.

The plot is complex but entirely credible, leading the reader merrily up several false trails along the way. The quality of the writing is excellent and the characterisation throughout is very strong, not just of the main players but of the secondary characters too. And the wide-ranging nature of the plot allows MacLean to show something of the politics and religion of the time without ever resorting to information dump. There's almost a feeling of a coming-of-age story to it, as the initially fairly naive Seaton begins to learn about some of the undercurrents in this seemingly so respectable society.

The plot and some of the occurrences make this far too strong to be considered a cosy, but it avoids graphic violence and gore, and is mercifully free of foul language and sex scenes. For the non-Scots out there, it's also free of dialect – standard English throughout but for the very occasional specifically Scottish word, for which a short glossary is included at the back.

An excellent historical crime novel, well up there with the likes of Brother Cadfael, and the joy of it is it's the first in a series. Highly recommended - the second one has already been added to my TBR.
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on 16 October 2017
She is becoming one of my favourite authors. My wife bought me 'The Seeker' earlier this year, which is set in Commonwealth England, and I enjoyed it so much that I bought her next offering 'The Black Friar'. Whilst awaiting the next book featuring Damian Seeker, which comes out next year, I found that she wrote four earlier books featuring Alexander Seaton, the first of which is set in 1626 - the first year in the reign of King Charles 1. So I have read the first two 'Seeker' books and the first 'Alexander Seaton', all three of which are murder mystery tales. And damn fine yarns they are. They are full of odd nuggets of information. For example, the method of killing in the 'Alexander Seaton' novel is real, and people have actually succumbed to the accidental eating of plants of the genus 'colchicum', often mistaking it for wild garlic. I love books that are full of odd facts like that, although perhaps not that morbid. I would highly recommend any of the three books that I have read.
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on 3 August 2017
I enjoyed this book - first time I have read this author - and am half way through the second in this series! Good historical stuff well written, revealing accurately (I presume) what life was like then; the living conditions, religious prejudices and superstitions, and the daily threats to staying alive. See how you get on..... you may be thankful you live in the 21st Century!
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on 26 July 2017
A lovely, thought provoking book that you don't want to put down, yet don't want to finish. Great characters, good dialogue, excellent plot and a sub text about morality that doesn't preach and is ultimately uplifting. Definitely worth five stars.
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on 27 April 2017
The book is well written and the characters are both believable and can be witnessed in every day life. There are a couple of twists in the plot and the ending is unpredictable.

Well worth a read and will read the next book.
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on 4 March 2017
This is a thoroughly enjoyable book. A novel of historical fiction, a murder mystery and a vivid represtatipn of 17th century Scotland with all of its post reformation anxieties. Being familiar with the area adds enjoyment but it's by no means necessary to appreciate this fine book.
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