Review of The Redemption of Alexander Seaton by S.G. MacLean

I read and reviewed this book a few months ago before I had started this blog and have decided to post the review here and on my twitter account because I adored this book and think it deserves more exposure than I believe it has had so far.

Synopsis from Goodreads:  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. Among her many strengths, Shona MacLean is brilliant at evoking period and place. You feel you are in those cold, dark, northern rooms, eavesdropping on her characters. You are totally involved in the rich, convincing world she has re-created.

My review:  5/5 stars.  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 (which i won’t go into as they would reveal too much) Alexander becomes involved in helping those in charge of the town deal with certain things that are found out about the dead man during the investigation into his death. 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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