Publisher: Quercus (Trade Paperback – 11 July 2019)
Series: Damien Seeker – Book Four
Length: 410 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Back in 2018 I was lucky enough to receive a copy of Destroying Angel, the third book in S. G. MacLean’s Damien Seeker series of historical murder mysteries. I had an amazing time reading this fantastic book, which I ended up giving a full five-star rating, and I was excited when I heard that a sequel was coming out in 2019. This sequel, The Bear Pit, had an intriguing premise and sounded like it was going to be quite an awesome read. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to read it last year when it first came out, which I have been regretting for some time now. Luckily, I recently found myself with a little bit of spare reading time, so I finally managed to check this book out. I am really glad that I did, as The Bear Pit contained a captivating and clever story that sets MacLean’s intense protagonist on the trial of some dedicated killers.
London, 1656. Oliver Cromwell rules England as the Lord Protector, but not everyone is happy with his reign. Many believe that his death will end the Puritan state and lead to a return of the monarchy in exile. In order to bring this about, three men loyal to the crown are currently plotting to kill him. However, Cromwell is not without his protectors, and his most ardent investigator, the legendary Captain Damien Seeker, is on the case.
Seeker has only recently returned to London after a harrowing investigation in Yorkshire and he is determined to catch the potential assassins before it is too late. However, Seeker soon finds himself on another case when he discovers the mutilated body of man while conducting a raid on a gaming house. The victim appears to have been brutally savaged by a bear, yet all the bears in London were shot after bear baiting was declared illegal by Cromwell. Where did the bear come from and why was it used to commit a murder?
While he continues his hunt for the assassins, Seeker employs his reluctant agent, Thomas Faithly, a former Royalist turned informer, to infiltrate the underground fighting pits in an attempt to find out if any bears remain in the city. However, as both investigations progress it soon becomes clear that they are connected and that the murder is tied into the assassins hunting Cromwell. As Seeker attempts to stop them before it is too late, he finds himself facing off against a talented and intelligent foe with great reason to hate Cromwell and everything Seeker stands for. Can Seeker stop the assassins before it is too late, or has he finally come up against someone even he cannot outthink?
MacLean has come up with another fantastic and compelling historical murder mystery with The Bear Pit. This book contains an amazing multi-character narrative that combines an intriguing murder mystery storyline with real-life political intrigue and plots, enjoyable characters and a fascinating historical backdrop, all of which comes together into an impressive overall narrative. Despite being the fourth Damien Seeker book, The Bear Pit is very accessible to readers unfamiliar with the series, and people who are interested in a good historical murder mystery can easy dive into this book without any issues.
At the heart of this novel is an enthralling mystery and intrigue laden storyline that sees Seeker and his companions not only investigating a murder apparently done by a bear, but also trying to unravel a plot to assassinate Cromwell. This turned into quite an enjoyable and exciting tale that was filled with all manner of twists, surprises, reveals, action-packed fights, disguised antagonists and confused loyalties. Naturally, the murder and the assassination plot are connected, and the investigations of the protagonist and his compatriots combine together as they attempt to find out who is behind the various crimes and why they were committed. This proved to be a very captivating storyline, and I really loved the way in which MacLean blended an inventive murder mystery with realistic political intrigue and plots. There are several clever clues and plenty of foreshadowing throughout the book, and the end result of the mystery was rather clever and somewhat hard to predict. I really liked how these intriguing storylines turned out, and they helped to make this story particularly addictive and hard to put down.
Another distinctive and enjoyable part of this book is the great characters contained within it. The main character of The Bear Pit is the series’ titular protagonist Damien Seeker, the moody and serious investigator and loyal solider of Oliver Cromwell. Seeker is a particularly hardnosed protagonist who inspires all manner of fear and worry in the various people he meets, and it proves to be rather enjoyable to watch him go about his business. While Seeker is the main character, this novel also follows a substantial cast of characters who end up narrating substantial parts of this book. Most of these additional point-of-view characters have appeared in previous entries in the series, and it was great to see MacLean reuse them so effectively while also successfully reintroducing them in the context of this book. Two of the main characters who assist Seeker with his investigation are Thomas Faithly and Lawrence Ingolby, both of whom were introduced in the previous novel, Destroying Angel. Both characters are rather interesting additions to the novel’s investigative plot, and they serve as a great counterpoint to Seeker due to their youth, their inexperience, and their own way of investigating the crimes. While Ingolby was a great younger character who looks set to be a major protagonist in the next book in the series, a large amount of the plot revolves around Faithly and his conflicted loyalties. Faithly is a former exile with strong ties to the royal family, but his desire to return to England sees him make a deal with Seeker to serve Cromwell as a spy. Despite his desire to remain in England, Faithly finds himself torn between his existing friendships and his new loyalty to Seeker, and this ends up becoming a rather dramatic and compelling part of the book. Extra drama is introduced thanks to the reappearance of Maria Ellingworth, Seeker’s former love interest. Both Seeker and Ellingworth have a lot of unresolved feelings with each other, which only become even more confused throughout the course of The Bear Pit when they find themselves in a love triangle with another major character. This romantic angle, as well as the continued use of his secret daughter, really helps to humanise Seeker, and I enjoyed getting a closer look under Seeker’s usual tough mask.
In addition to the fantastic mystery and intriguing characters, one of the best aspects of The Bear Pit, and indeed the entire Damien Seeker series, is the author’s fascinating look at life in Cromwell’s England. This is particularly interesting part of England’s history, which saw the implementation of Puritan law across the country, while secret Royalists lay hidden across the country. This book in particular took a look at what was going on within London, and it was fascinating to see the various aspects of life during the period, from the politics, the hidden loyalties, the impact of day-to-day activities and the removal of previously iconic parts of London life, such as the bear baiting and other blood sports. MacLean does a really good job of examining these various aspects of life during the Cromwell era and working them into her novels, making them a vital part of the plot as well as a fascinating setting.
One of the most fascinating and impressive historical aspects that MacLean includes in The Bear Pit was the focus on the 1656 plot to kill Oliver Cromwell. This was a real historical conspiracy that took place throughout London, as three conspirators attempted to kill Cromwell through various means. The author really dives into the details of the plot throughout this book, and the reader gets a glimpse into the various attempts that were made on Cromwell during this period, as well as the identity and motivations of the three killers. MacLean even shows several chapters from these killers’ viewpoints, showing all the various preparations they put into each attempt, and then presenting how and why they failed. I really liked how the author worked these assassination attempts into the main plot of the book, utilising Seeker as a major reason why several of the attempts failed and ensuring that the antagonists were aware of him and considered him the mostly likely person to stop them. This was a very clever story aspect as a result, and I liked the blend of creative storytelling with historical fact to create an epic and impressive storyline that really stood out. I also liked MacLean’s compelling inclusion of a major historical Royalist figure as the mastermind of the plot and the main antagonist of the book. This character has such a distinctive and infamous reputation, and I liked how the author hinted at their arrival and then sprung the surprise towards the end of the book. This was such a great part of the plot and I look forward to seeing what major historical events MacLean features in the next book in the series.
Overall, The Bear Pit was an outstanding and captivating historical murder mystery that really highlighted S. G. MacLean’s writing ability and creativity. I really enjoyed the excellent blend of murder and intrigue, set during a fascinating period of England’s history, and the author’s use of great characters and the inclusion of a particularly notable historical occurrence proved to be extremely impressive and resulted in an outstanding read. As a result, The Bear Pit comes highly recommended by me and I really do regret taking this long to read it. Luckily, this should ensure that the overall plot of the series is fresh in my mind when I get my hands on the next and final book in the Damien Seeker series, The House of Lamentations, which is out in a couple of weeks. I have already put in my order for a copy of this upcoming book and I am looking forward to seeing how MacLean finishes off this series, especially after I had such an awesome time reading The Bear Pit.