"The Abbey Close" by Steven Veerapen is an accomplished novel. It is so well researched, and the story is woven so beautifully into such a crafted piece of writing, that nothing about it jars or requires the reader to suspend belief. The settings come compellingly to life as we are transported back in time to the Glasgow of 1542 and taken on a journey through the city and beyond it, to the bustling market town of Paisley and its abbey. We meet a whole cast of colourful characters and explore the relationships and tensions between them.
As the armies of Henry VIII of England and James V of Scotland prepare for battle, we follow the fortunes of Catholic exile Simon Danforth as he embarks upon this journey, whilst all the while struggling to decide where his personal loyalties lie. Danforth has been cast out of England and has found comfort in his adoptive country of Scotland. He is driven by private grief and the need to find inner peace, the need to quell the turmoil and tensions he harbours within himself. He is accompanied by a younger man, Arnaud Martin, with whom he forms an uneasy alliance as they uncover murder, madness and sexual desire infecting the sacred house of Paisley and its neighbouring town.
The two men are drawn to investigate the fate of a missing girl who had worked at the abbey but suddenly disappeared. As the body count rises and they delve more deeply into the affairs of the town, its people and its abbey, both men begin to feel the antagonism and mistrust of the locals. After all, wherever they go, it seems that disaster follows them, and they come to be seen as the focus for all the bad things that are happening in Paisley. Can they solve the mystery of the disappearing girl, get justice for the innocents who have been drawn into this sorry affair, and find out who is committing murder in the town before they are expelled from it?
"The Abbey Close" is a very satisfying read. The story progresses slowly at first, but this gives the reader time to settle into the period, become familiar with the surroundings, get to grips with the language and learn about the key characters. There is sufficient change of setting and enough action to keep you turning the page until about half way through, when all the separate strands start to form and the pace of the novel quickens. It then progresses towards an excellent conclusion and a satisfying endpoint. There is mileage in the two central characters and the reader is left wondering what next for this unlikely pair. This reader thoroughly enjoyed this book and is delighted to know it is the first in a series.