Destroying Angel

By SG MacLean.

Damian Seeker has been sent to Yorkshire where among other things, he’s on the hunt for Sir Thomas Faithly, who’s vanished from the court of Charles Stuart. But Seeker’s original mission gets knocked sideways by other events. Gwendolen Sorsby, the adopted daughter of Pullan family, is murdered, killed by a poisonous mushroom called destroying angel, and Caleb Turner, the trier, who is in Faithly to pass judgement on the local vicar, Septimus Jenkin, turns out to be the man who spirited away Seeker’s daughter; and with Turner is his wife, and Seeker’s ex-wife, Felicity. On top of all this, the village is populated by several nasty little nobodies like Abel Sharrock who dig up scandals from the past to further their own ends. And apart from all this, there are other secrets and vendettas to be uncovered.

It’s difficult to outline too much of the plot without giving too much away. Seeker clouts Turner in a fit of ill-advised anger. His ex-wife is more than a few shades of Lady Anne Winter, who also has a role to play in the book (“Of course I’m going to be in this volume,” said Lady Anne. “After all, I’m contractually obliged to be in it, and have been voted Sexiest Villain in a Damian Seeker Novel three books running. Just giving the fans what they want.” You’re the only sexy villain, muttered Seeker). But for Seeker, there is at least a happy ending.

I think, though, MacLean was trying to achieve too much because there’s too much to be reasonably achieved. What, in fact, is the A plot and what are the subplots? Is it the hunt for Sir Thomas? Well, not really because the man lurks a lot and then steps out into the open. Is it the hunt for Gwendolen Sorsby’s killer? It could be. Is it Seeker’s ongoing search for his long-vanished daughter? That seems to take up quite a lot of the book. Is it the activities of Sir Edward Faithly, Thomas’s brother who missed out on the Civil War because of a riding accident? Probably not. Or is it the pervading theme of the book, which is very much women who have suffered some sort of abuse from Tansy Whyte, who’s been waiting for her husband to return home for 14 years, to Gwendolen’s mother, packed off to a squint in a church in York, to Emma Faithly, married to the ghastly Sir Edward so that he can spite Matthew Pullan?

The final encounter with Caleb Turner at the end of the book is brief and an entirely chance thing, and yet it involves him murdering two soldiers apparently as a way of attracting Seeker’s attention. What are the odds?

It’s not that Destroying Angel is poorly written or unengaging, but as I said above, MacLean is attempting to do too much and has too many plots to effectively deal with. If she’d enmeshed them in some clever and cunning way, I think this would’ve been a more satisfying book, but I’m inclined to say three to three-and-a-half stars.


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