The Seeker is the first in a series set in the 1650s London of Oliver Cromwell and featuring Damian Seeker, an army officer in the intelligence services of the Protectorate. Seeker operates in a London buzzing with coffee houses, illicit newspapers, radical lawyers and royalist agents. When one of Cromwell’s favoured officers is murdered in Whitehall Palace, Seeker finds himself delving in to the world of the City, and the secrets of a diverse selection of characters – a wealthy merchant, an impoverished lawyer, a Dutch scholar, a Scottish minister, an itinerant peddler and the dead man’s Royalist widow amongst others – who encounter each other in a coffee house run by an old parliamentary soldier and his niece. The story takes Seeker from the vibrant heart of the city, via the university town of Oxford to the court of the Lord Protector himself, and in the course of the story, it is revealed that Seeker has a few secrets of his own.
The Seeker, like my Alexander Seaton series of books, was inspired primarily by place. The Seaton books, set mainly on the north-east coast of Scotland and in Ireland in the 1620s and 30s were inspired by places I knew well, had long been intrigued by, and whose history, architectural remains and landscapes I had come to love.
However, from an early, stage in our relationship my editor had been pressing me to consider sending Alexander Seaton to London. I had manfully resisted – I had no connection to London or history with the city. I knew little enough about the life of the 21st century metropolis, never mind that of the 17th. Eventually, in a fairly disgruntled manner, I agreed to consider it, but although there were plenty of reasons for someone like Alexander Seaton – a failed minister turned University teacher who does a lot of sleuthing – to go to London in the 1640s, I found he was even more opposed to the idea than I had been: he simply wouldn’t go.
I thought my publisher and I had reached a parting of the ways, but at about the same time, I noticed that BB4 was airing a documentary of seventeenth century London. It was presented by the very engaging Dan Cruickshank, and I was soon hooked. And then he came to the emergence of the London coffee house in the 1650s and I felt the old familiar buzz of excitement that told me there was a story here. I went away and started reading up on 1650s London, Oliver Cromwell’s London, and the new phenomenon of the coffee house in particular. The coffee house was an amazingly egalitarian institution where individuals from all walks of life, strangers or friends, would meet to drink coffee, smoke, and talk, and they talked of anything – trade, politics, gossip, sedition. Concurrent to this was the rise of the newssheet or news book – the fore-runners of our newspapers, and it was in the coffee house that people read and exchanged the news. The London of Oliver Cromwell was obsessed with news, absolutely buzzing with rumour, gossip and intrigue, and I thought a coffee house would make the perfect setting for an ensemble cast of characters to come together. Murder would, of course, ensue.
I didn’t bother getting in touch with my editor about this – I assumed I’d been tacitly dropped – but I carried on working away at my idea. Then, a week or so before Christmas 2012 she called me and said, ‘How’s the book coming on?’ I only just managed to stop myself saying, ‘What book?’ Instead, I told her my idea, about the coffee house, the cast of characters, the murderer. She liked it very much. Then she said, ‘Of course, you’ll need to think carefully about the detective character.’ Again, I managed to stop myself saying ‘What detective character?’ I had planned that the identity of the killer would just emerge in the course of the story, and had had no thought of a detective character at all. So, at the end of the phone call, I pulled on my wellies and hauled the dog to the woods, racking my brains about what on earth I was going to do about it. It was a typically Highland gloomy, drizzly December day. After about fifteen minutes, we came to a point in the woods where the path splits in two directions, on one side disappearing between a tangle of whin bushes, and in my mind’s eye, through the gloom, I saw a figure emerge from the bushes and present himself to me. He was very tall and strongly built, and was wearing a helmet, boots and a long black cloak – something like a mixture of Darth Vader and Brix, Sarah Lund’s boss from The Killing – and I knew his name was Damian Seeker. Now, I was perfectly aware that I was not seeing this in reality, but the picture came to me very clearly in my mind, and I knew I had my detective character.
The Seeker is quite different from the Alexander Seaton books in several ways other than simply location. The Seaton books are all written in the first person, from Alexander’s viewpoint, whereas the Seeker books are 3rd person, and show several viewpoints. Alexander is prone to self-examination, angst if you like, and is very driven by religious belief or doubt. Damian Seeker doesn’t do ‘angst’, and he certainly doesn’t do religion. Seeker takes his orders from John Thurloe, Secretary of State and Spymaster General of the Intelligence services of the Cromwellian Protectorate. He is a northerner, a Yorkshireman, utterly loyal to Cromwell, unimpressed by any sort of pretension, and brutal when he has to be. He has, of course, a sensitive side, but one that few get to see. After reading an early draft of the book, my editor and agent both agreed on one thing, they loved him, and wanted a lot more of Damian Seeker in the book. I obliged, but I still haven’t had the heart to tell either of them that he wasn’t part of the initial plan at all.
Order The Seeker by S.G. MacLean here: