he Seeker is the first novel in a five book series featuring Damian Seeker. In my limited knowledge of English history, it seems that most authors side
with the Royalists, and consider Cromwell a dangerous usurper. But in this book, the hero, Damian Seeker, is completely loyal to Cromwell; Seeker's job is to thwart the Royalist plots to
restore the monarchy. The author does reveal that after brilliantly leading a "New Modern Army" to oust Charles I, Cromwell installed himself as ruler and acted just like his royal
predecessor; all the nobles goals of a government by the will of the people were summarily dismissed and Cromwell acted as England's king in all but name.
The Seeker is based in London, 1654 - just a few years before the onset of the devastating plague and the Great Fire of London. Oliver Cromwell rules
England like a tyrant, Cromwell acts no better than the king that had just been overthrown and executed. The dead king's son, young Charles II,
lurks across the channel, and many Royalists hope to reinstall the kingship. There are plots to overthrow Cromwell - both from within the country and from neighboring powers such as the
Netherlands, Scotland and France.
To protect his position, Cromwell has developed an intelligence network to detect traitors. Damian Seeker is a towering man who stands 6'4" tall, dresses in all black, and is the ruthlessly
efficient spy master for John Thurloe, Cromwell's Secretary of State. Everyone in London fears "The Seeker";
his spy network seems to know everything about everyone. When Seeker shows up on your doorstep, you are in grave danger of being hauled off to the dreaded tower of London, where torture will soon
have you confessing to any and all crimes.
One of Cromwell's trusted generals is John Winter. When Seeker is striding the passages of Whitehall late one night, he comes upon a man crouched over the body of
Winter. The man stands up in shock, he is covered in blood and a knife is gripped in his hand. The man is Elias Ellingworth, an outspoken lawyer who writes radical pamphlets denouncing Cromwell's
betrayal of ideals; the idealistic Elias has dangerously written articles lamenting Cromwell's abandonment of the idea of making England a society of freemen. Elias has obvious motive to want Winter, one of Cromwell's most valued allies,
dead. Despite his feeble protestations of innocence, Seeker has Elias dragged off to a cell in the Tower. What
could be more straightforward? But Damian is troubled by the circumstances, he finds that he half-believes Elias' claims of innocence.
Even more puzzling is the reaction to the murder by Lady Anne Winter, the general's wife. She
hardly seems to grieve her husband lying dead outside her door. Lady Anne's dress is soaked in blood - she explains that she came across John Winter lying in the corridor with a knife stuck in him, and she held his head until
he died. But if what Lady Anne says is true, how is it the Elias, the accused killer, was found crouched over Winter's body, with knife still in hand?
Thurloe doesn't want Seeker wasting time on a murder case when the culprit is already apprehended. There are too many clues about another plot brewing against
Cromwell. Informants have feedback information about a suspicious pair of Scotsmen who have wandered into London yesterday. They stopped at a local establishment, Kent's Coffee House. Seeker is also informed
that there was also a Dutch scholar stopping in for a dish of brew. While
the patrons of the shop sipped their drinks and debated the world's events, a carriage crashed outside in the street. The passenger was shaken, but unharmed - it was Lady Anne Winter, who's husband was murdered later that night.
Was her presence at the shop mere coincidence? The
informant also suggests to Seeker that there is something peculiar about one of the paintings hanging in Kent's Coffee House.
Damian Seeker is soon in pursuit of potential plotters. He has a team of trusted ex-soldiers, who are well trained and efficient at carrying out his precise orders.
Seeker descends upon Kent's, interviewing witnesses - catching them in lies and demolishing their evasions. He seizes the paintings and tries to decipher if any of them contain a hidden message.
I found that the plot to the mystery to be sufficiently intriguing to keep me the turning pages (I read the whole book in one day while waiting in airports and on a plane ride).
Despite a sinister reputation due to his ruthless quest for truth in the service of Cromwell, Damian Seeker is a sympathetic
protagonist. The characters are well drawn, and each seems to have reasonable motivation. Medieval England is well portrayed with its muddy streets and teeming masses of impoverished humanity.
If I have a complaint with this novel, Seeker seems almost too competent. His spies really do appear to be everywhere, and the information they glean is uncannily accurate. But the
mystery of the murder of John Winter and the potential plot against Cromwell is well done. The second book in the series is The Black Friar, but unfortunately, it does not appear in the library catalog.