Review: Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. Harris

Review: Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. HarrisWho Slays the Wicked (Sebastian St. Cyr, #14) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #14
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley Books on April 2, 2019
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The death of a fiendish nobleman strikes close to home as Sebastian St. Cyr is tasked with finding the killer to save his young cousin from persecution in this riveting new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Why Kill the Innocent....

When the handsome but dissolute young gentleman Lord Ashworth is found brutally murdered, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is called in by Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy to help catch the killer. Just seven months before, Sebastian had suspected Ashworth of aiding one of his longtime friends and companions in the kidnapping and murder of a string of vulnerable street children. But Sebastian was never able to prove Ashworth's complicity. Nor was he able to prevent his troubled, headstrong young niece Stephanie from entering into a disastrous marriage with the dangerous nobleman.

Stephanie has survived the difficult birth of twin sons. But Sebastian soon discovers that her marriage has quickly degenerated into a sham. Ashworth abandoned his pregnant bride at his father's Park Street mansion and has continued living an essentially bachelor existence. And mounting evidence--ranging from a small bloody handprint to a woman's silk stocking--suggests that Ashworth's killer was a woman. Sebastian is tasked with unraveling the shocking nest of secrets surrounding Ashworth's life to keep Stephanie from being punished for his death.

My Review:

In contemporary mystery, it is usually considered a requirement that the investigator be an impartial observer, that he or she not have any relationship to the victim or the possible suspects. Although it is often a plot point that an involved detective pursues the case anyway.

No such restriction hampers Sebastian St. Cyr. His investigations, though often at the behest of Bow Street, are always at least somewhat unofficial. And as a high-ranking member of the aristocracy during the Regency, it’s not as if a Bow Street Runner, no matter how high-ranking within the still-rudimentary force, could tell him what to do in any case.

This is ironically similar to the situation that surrounds the dead man, Lord Ashworth. Sebastian St. Cyr knew the man and loathed him, as did seemingly everyone who crossed the man’s path. A path that includes, unfortunately, St. Cyr’s beloved niece Stephanie.

She has the misfortune to be married to the man. A man who St. Cyr was certain was guilty of multiple brutal murders of young street children. (That story is in Where the Dead Lie.) But just as St. Cyr can’t be ordered about because of his rank, Ashworth was too highly ranked to ever be held accountable for his many, many crimes.

It seems all too fitting that Ashworth, a known sexual sadist, was found naked, tied to his own bed and hacked to death by so many stab wounds that it is impossible to ascertain the murder weapon. Only that the killing was extremely vicious and certainly personal.

The problem for St. Cyr is that he’s a bit sorry he didn’t do the job himself, but he fears that his niece may have done. She had plenty of motive – she’s just far from the only person who had plenty.

As much as St. Cyr feels relieved that this killer has been put out of his niece’s – and the entire city’s – misery, when the dead reprobate turns out to be merely the first in a host of corpses, he needs to figure out who slew this very wicked man – before that person kills another innocent – and before his niece is officially charged with the crime.

Although the murder of Ashworth and his procurer could be considered a public service, the murder of the innocents who might have chanced to know just a bit about the crime is not.

St. Cyr must seek the truth, no matter how dangerous the places to which it leads – or how many people try to stop him – permanently.

Escape Rating A: This series is dark and gritty and fascinating at every turn. This particular entry sucked me in from the very first page, and didn’t let go until the last – at 2 am.

But fair warning, if you love the glitz and glitter of the Regency era that was popularized by Georgette Heyer and is the way that the Regency is most often portrayed, this series may not be for you. Because this series explores the extremely seedy underbelly of the Regency. It drags what has been swept far under the carpet into the light of day and has a lot of trenchant things to say about the divide between rich and poor, the extreme privilege of the aristocracy and the trampling of pretty much everyone from the lowest rag-and-bone picker to the solidly middle class.

The glitter of the Regency rested on one hell of a lot of garbage, and this series pokes into it all. It’s not a pretty sight – nor is it meant to be..

What makes this particular case so compelling is that we, and St. Cyr, know that Ashworth was rotten to the core. And even if one has not (yet) read Where the Dead Lie, St. Cyr’s investigation provides more than enough information about Ashworth’s actual crimes and his pure contempt for pretty much everyone other than himself to make the reader every bit as glad the man is dead as St. Cyr.

That he got away with so much not just disgusting but outright criminal behavior is its own indictment of both the man and the society that allows him to prey on so many people.

We also see St. Cyr’s conflict over the whole affair. He wanted the man dead. He knows Ashworth was guilty of so much. And yet, he needs to find justice. Not just to keep the accusations away from his niece, but also to keep the new predator from continuing his spree.

Part of what makes St. Cyr such a fascinating hero is the way that he deals with his own privilege and his own demons. Because he has plenty of both. But it’s his demons that drive him to assist Bow Street, no matter how many powerful people – including his own father-in-law – warn him off, over and over again.

This case, like many that St. Cyr involves himself with, has political implications that loom over the investigation. In this particular case it’s the visit by one of the Tsar’s sisters, in anticipation of the defeat of Napoleon and what will be intense political machinations over the ensuing treaty.

That one of the Princess’s noble attendants was one of the dead man’s many playmates adds to the complications, while the impending defeat of Napoleon seems like a hazy dream. The war has gone on for so very long, and has left so many scarred. St. Cyr included.

This series is dark and gritty and fascinating and compelling. While I haven’t managed to read every book (I need more round tuits to catch up!), every single one that I have read has been gripping from the opening pages – no matter how long its been since my last foray into St. Cyr’s world.

And the reveal of who slew this wicked man was a surprise and a shock and a marvelous conclusion to this dark, decadent and delicious story. I’ll be back for St. Cyr’s next investigation!

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2 thoughts on “Review: Who Slays the Wicked by C.S. Harris

  1. I started listening to the audiobook yesterday and was really struck by how grim and gritty this entry is. Harris doesn’t pull her punches in this series, so I’m not sure why I’m more taken aback than with some of the other books. Hero’s interviews, especially, show the shocking underbelly of the city for me. Reading (listening to) this book is making me very grateful for the life I have.

    I’m going to be sad when I finish the book and have to wait a whole year for the next one. I hope I can find another book or two in my TBR pile to hold me over. 🙂

  2. I just started reading this series! And I absolutely loved the first book, I’m eager to catch up. I skimmed this review just in case something might spoil any previous books, but I’m glad to see even as far along as the 14th book they’re still good!

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