I love reading historical fiction set in places that are not the usual go-tos of this genre, like revolutionary France or Tudor England (interesting though they are!!). There are vast areas of Europe, especially its eastern parts, not to mention places like Africa or South America, that rarely make an appearance.
In that sense, Scotland is a bit in between. Famously it is the setting of The Outlander, but I cannot think of many other novels set in that region, especially its coastal eastern part, and outside of the Jacobite movement era. That is why I was curious about The Redemption of Alexander Seaton, which takes place in a small town of Banff, near Aberdeen.
The story opens when Alexander, a young man who had once dreamed of becoming a minister before seducing his benefactor’s daughter and suffering a public disgrace, stumbles upon a man lying in the mud on a stormy night. Alexander had just spend months drinking heavily to forget his misfortune so he ignores the man, assuming he is inebriated.
But the next day the man’s body, which is identified as Patrick Davidson, a local apothecary’s apprentice, is found. What is more, a doctor quickly determines that he had been poisoned with a rare plant that does not grow in Scotland called colchicum mortis.
Several theories are put forward, including a possibility that Patrick was a spy. That is because several detailed maps of the coastline had been found among his possessions, and Patrick had recently come back from studying on the continent. Europe at that time is in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War, and in Scotland tensions are high between Protestants and those faithful to Rome. Thus a suspicion emerges that Patrick may have worked on behalf of a Catholic power to facilitate an invasion from the sea.
The Banff authorities send Alexander to Aberdeen to consult a mapmaking expert to confirm their suspicions. But the investigation yields to proof. Meanwhile Alexander is increasingly wracked by guilt for not having rushed to Patrick’s help that fateful night, and he begins an investigation of his own. Pretty soon, it becomes clear that the cause of the young apothecary’s death was much closer to home and more personal. As he pursues the truth, Alexander begins to suspect the existence of a sinister secret at the heart of the city’s power structure, which may put his own life in danger.
The Redemption of Alexander Seaton is an intriguing mystery set in a lesser-know place, thus allowing the reader to immerse himself or herself in a world that feels fresh. The descriptions of the cold and stormy Scottish spring, with its gales blowing from the sea and the haar (mist) enveloping the rugged cliffs are appropriately atmospheric. My only concern was about the length of the story. It could easily have been cut by a 100+ pages, which would have greatly helped the pacing.
Still, it is an interesting, satisfying read for fans of historical crime.
If you like historical fiction, check out The Greenest Branch, my novel based on the life of Hildegard of Bingen, Germany’s first female physician. It is FREE to read on Kindle Unlimited, and available in ebook and paperback format on Amazon US, Amazon UK, and several other Amazon marketplaces.
This is a part of Scotland I have been to, and I set my own first book there, too. It’s true, it’s not as famous or romantic as other areas. I always figured it was b/c of the area poverty — many, many out of work folks when I went there, for example. The story you review gives the region a nice head’s up.