The Royalist, by S.J. Deas
Headline, (2015), Paperback, 336 pages
I have read quite a few murder mysteries set during the Restoration, and I know of some set during the Commonwealth, but I believe this is the first I have encountered set during the Civil War itself (or as it now known due to political correctness, the War of Three Kingdoms). It an unremittingly grim tale, set during the bitter winter of 1645, and the book ‘s tone perfectly matches the bleakness of the weather and England’s shattered society. The story revolves around William Falkland, a war-weary Royalist awaiting execution in a Parliamentary prison. At the last moment he is plucked from his dismal surroundings by Oliver Cromwell himself, who requires someone to get to the bottom of a spate of unexplained suicides bedeviling his prized New Model Army. Sent with a surly companion, Warbeck, to watch over him, Falkland arrives in the army’s winter camp to find nothing is as is it seems. Assisted by a young local woman, he eventually gets to the bottom of the mystery, after coming close to death on more than one occasion, but questions whether he has actually solved anything at all. While the plot is nothing to write home about, the book’s atmosphere and a society riven by hatred, suspicion and fear is well-handled. Falkland is an agreeable enough, if somewhat cliched, protagonist. His tentative blossoming of feeling for Kate Cain remains frustratingly unfulfilled, and it is hoped they are reunited in subsequent books. The other characters are suitably sinister, or downright twisted, and all have secrets to hide. It’s not quite what I would call an enjoyable read, but as a slice of England’s darker history rendered into passable fiction, it’s a worthwhile expense of your time.