Review: Where the Dead Lie by C.S. Harris

Review: Where the Dead Lie by C.S. HarrisWhere the Dead Lie (Sebastian St. Cyr, #12) by C.S. Harris
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #12
Pages: 334
Published by Berkley on April 4, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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The gruesome murder of a young boy takes Sebastian St. Cyr from the gritty streets of London to the glittering pleasure haunts of the aristocracy . . .
London, 1813.Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is no stranger to the dark side of the city, but he's never seen anything like this: the brutalized body of a fifteen-year-old boy dumped into a makeshift grave on the grounds of an abandoned factory.
One of London's many homeless children, Benji Thatcher was abducted and tortured before his murder—and his younger sister is still missing. Few in authority care about a street urchin's fate, but Sebastian refuses to let this killer go unpunished.
Uncovering a disturbing pattern of missing children, Sebastian is drawn into a shadowy, sadistic world. As he follows a grim trail that leads from the writings of the debauched Marquis de Sade to the city's most notorious brothels, he comes to a horrifying realization: someone from society's upper echelon is preying upon the city's most vulnerable. And though dark, powerful forces are moving against him, Sebastian will risk his reputation and his life to keep more innocents from harm . .

My Review:

The dead lie in multiple meanings of the word AND in multiple places in this twelfth entry in the long-running, utterly marvelous Sebastian St. Cyr series.

The dead, and their deaths, circle around three points: a serial killer, a supposedly lost work from the pen of the late Marquis de Sade, and lost, missing or abandoned children. Those are three topics that sit uneasily in the mind separately, together they are a nightmare.

Or rather, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin’s nightmares – and he already has PLENTY of those to keep him awake on entirely too many nights.

It begins with a child’s dead body, as a midnight burial is interrupted by an old soldier with a long-standing grudge. But it’s only the first body that’s found in this frequently macabre tale of murder and privilege. Benji Thatcher, abandoned, abused, stabbed, raped and killed, was not the first body to be murdered in such a heinous manner – only the one whose accidental discovery leads to more.

Too many more as Devlin discovers. Even more horrific, there are also too many people in the circle he is supposed to be a part of who don’t give a damn. Along with at least one who is adding to the body count even as Devlin does his damndest to see him hanged.

That he fails isn’t on Devlin, but rather, on the privileges of a society that protects both him and the killer – even as it fails to protect those without that privilege. Those like the children abandoned on London’s streets because their parents have been transported to remote penal colonies such as Georgia, or Botany Bay.

As well as those who have the misfortune to have been born female – no matter their class – not even the most privileged. Not even Devlin’s own niece who could still be saved – but refuses to let herself be.

Escape Rating A-: This one is a really hard read. It’s excellent, just as the entire St. Cyr series is, but this one is difficult because there’s just so much tragedy and horror uncovered within its pages.

At its heart, this is a story about lost children, and all the ways that society (not just his but also, frankly, ours) allows children to be lost, abandoned and abused. These children are being preyed upon because no one will miss them and the killer knows it.

And has exploited their position, over and over again, because they know they are so privileged and so protected that even if they are suspected, which they are and have been long before St. Cyr becomes involved, few will believe they could possibly be guilty of such heinous crimes and even then there are people in very high places who will guarantee they never pay.

Wrapped around the ongoing horror of finding not one but three mass burial sites, there’s a story about a lost child who is found, an adult child who loses a parent to an untimely death, a formerly lost child who recognizes that he has found a home, and a lost child who finds his way back to a home he once rejected.

With one child’s, as well as their mother’s, tragedy yet to come in the later books in the series.

This entry in the series is of the ‘read ‘em and weep’ variety, as everyone in Devlin’s true circle is as harrowed and horrified as the reader – which is made infinitely worse by the people who are informed but simply refuse to care. If “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” then there is more evil in the world than even Devlin can fix – and he is made all too aware of that in this entry in the series.

My reading of Where the Dead Lie completes my ‘catch-up’ read of this series, so I’ll be waiting with the proverbial ‘bated breath’ for the forthcoming new entry, What Cannot Be Said, currently scheduled for publication in April of 2024. And in the meantime, I have the readalike Wrexford & Sloane series to catch up with, as it reads quite a bit like the St. Cyr, series would read if we were viewing the Regency from Hero Devlin’s perspective rather than Sebastian’s.

Review: Who Buries the Dead by C.S. Harris

Review: Who Buries the Dead by C.S. HarrisWho Buries the Dead (Sebastian St. Cyr #10) by C.S. Harris
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #10
Pages: 338
Published by Berkley on March 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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The grisly murder of a West Indies slave owner and the reappearance of a dangerous enemy from Sebastian St. Cyr’s past combine to put C. S. Harris’s “troubled but compelling antihero” (Booklist) to the ultimate test in this taut, thrilling mystery.
London, 1813. The vicious decapitation of Stanley Preston, a wealthy, socially ambitious plantation owner, at Bloody Bridge draws Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, into a macabre and increasingly perilous investigation. The discovery near the body of an aged lead coffin strap bearing the inscription “King Charles, 1648” suggests a link between this killing and the beheading of the deposed seventeenth-century Stuart monarch. Equally troubling, the victim’s kinship to the current Home Secretary draws the notice of Sebastian’s powerful father-in-law, Lord Jarvis, who will exploit any means to pursue his own clandestine ends.
Working in concert with his fiercely independent wife, Hero, Sebastian finds his inquiries taking him from the wretched back alleys of Fish Street Hill to the glittering ballrooms of Mayfair as he amasses a list of suspects who range from an eccentric Chelsea curiosity collector to the brother of an unassuming but brilliantly observant spinster named Jane Austen.
But as one brutal murder follows another, it is the connection between the victims and ruthless former army officer Sinclair, Lord Oliphant, that dramatically raises the stakes. Once, Oliphant nearly destroyed Sebastian in a horrific wartime act of carnage and betrayal. Now the vindictive former colonel might well pose a threat not only to Sebastian but to everything—and everyone—Sebastian holds most dear.

My Review:

Whenever I flail around looking for a comfort read, I end up back in Regency England, following Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, as he investigates yet another murder that touches upon the high and mighty of his time and place – whether the high and mighty like it or not.

Especially, and sometimes just a bit gleefully, whether his powerful father-in-law, Lord Charles Jarvis, likes it or not. Devlin enjoys discomfiting his father-in-law, while Jarvis would just as soon see Devlin dead, and is more than capable of arranging it. The only thing keeping the two men from killing each other is that they both love Hero Jarvis, Lord Jarvis’ daughter who is, much to the consternation of her father, Devlin’s wife.

The case in this 10th outing of the series begins with a murder. Not just the usual garden-variety murder, either. Stanley Preston, a man who loved collecting memorabilia related to the famously dead, is found not merely dead but decapitated much like the late King Charles I. Or, to be a bit more accurate, like Oliver Cromwell, whose body was decapitated after death – and whose head is part of Preston’s ‘cabinet of curiosities’.

The late, mostly unlamented Mr. Preston was one of those people who are so cantankerous and so outspoken about all the many and varied things they are cantankerous about that it’s not hard to imagine that someone killed him. In fact, it’s all too easy and potential suspects are legion.

Or would be if not for that grisly, gruesome and downright difficult to accomplish decapitation. Not that plenty of Preston’s enemies weren’t more than wealthy enough to hire it done. Including, quite possibly, his daughter. Or one of her long-suffering suitors who believed that her father stood in the way of their happiness.

Bow Street would love to pin the murder on Miss Preston’s most objectionable suitor – at least the most impoverished one. Devlin hopes that the crime can be laid at the door of one of his own enemies, newly returned to London.

Unless the whole thing comes back around to Preston’s cantankerousness combined with his inability to keep his objectionable opinions behind his teeth. And a man who with a secret that he can’t afford to have exposed.

A secret not all that different from Devlin’s own.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up this week because yes, I was having a comfort read flail, and Sebastian St. Cyr always delivers – or rather whisks me away from my time to his. Which got me to thinking about the nature of comfort reads in general, and why this works for me in particular.

I had originally hoped this week that Blind Fear, being the third book in a series I’m definitely enjoying, would scratch some of that comfort read itch – but it didn’t – leading me straight to questions about why and why not.

What makes mysteries in general so much of a comfort is the romance of justice. If a story is a mystery and not purely a thriller, then it’s guaranteed that in the end the crime is solved, evil is punished and justice triumphs.

The Finn Thrillers have a mystery component, but they are exactly what it says on the label. They’re thrillers. At the end of the whole series, it seems highly probably that justice will triumph and evil will get its just desserts. But it hasn’t happened yet and doesn’t look like it’s happening any time soon. And in the meantime Finn is dealing with a lot of injustice, directed at himself as well as others, and wading all too frequently in some of the nastier cesspits of human behavior as he searches high and low – mostly low – for that justice.

In a historical mystery like the St. Cyr series, the historical setting adds to the comfort. Not that the past was any better, easier or safer than the present, but rather that its problems and its evils are not open-ended. We know what got solved or resolved, which situations improved and which are still plaguing the world today.

Not that justice writ large always triumphs in the St. Cyr series, but writ small it generally does. Even if the evils of the socioeconomic issues of the day are frequently appalling. Devlin and Hero attempt to do some good with the money and power they have, and often succeed if only a bit.

Bow Street may attempt to rush someone to judgment because it’s convenient for the high and mighty, but Devlin is always successful at standing in their way on that front, at least. The official story that gets into the papers may sweep things under the rug that shouldn’t be, and some of the rich and powerful escape the full range of justice they deserve, but no one is successfully railroaded to the hangman’s noose who hasn’t earned that punishment, at least not on Devlin’s watch.

And that is most definitely a comfort to the reader. Or at least this reader.

Who Buries the Dead was the penultimate title in my quest to catch up with the Sebastian St. Cyr series. I have one book left, Where the Dead Lie, and I’m pretty confident at this point that I’ll have that read long before the 19th entry in the series, What Cannot Be Said, gets said, done and published in April 2024.

After that, if I get desperate for a comfort read that is very like St. Cyr, I’ve got more of the Wrexford & Sloane series to look forward to. And I am!

Review: Why Kings Confess by C.S. Harris

Review: Why Kings Confess by C.S. HarrisWhy Kings Confess (Sebastian St. Cyr, #9) by C.S. Harris
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #9
Pages: 340
Published by Berkley, New American Library, Obsidian on March 4, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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The gruesome murder of a young French physician draws aristocratic investigator Sebastian St. Cyr and his pregnant wife, Hero, into a dangerous, decades-old mystery as a wrenching piece of Sebastian’s past puts him to the ultimate test.
Regency England, January 1813: When a badly injured Frenchwoman is found beside the mutilated body of Dr. Damion Pelletan in one of London’s worst slums, Sebastian finds himself caught in a high-stakes tangle of murder and revenge. Although the woman, Alexi Sauvage, has no memory of the attack, Sebastian knows her all too well from an incident in his past—an act of wartime brutality and betrayal that nearly destroyed him.
As the search for the killer leads Sebastian into a treacherous web of duplicity, he discovers that Pelletan was part of a secret delegation sent by Napoleon to investigate the possibility of peace with Britain. Despite his powerful father-in-law’s warnings, Sebastian plunges deep into the mystery of the "Lost Dauphin”, the boy prince who disappeared in the darkest days of the French Revolution, and soon finds himself at lethal odds with the Dauphin’s sister—the imperious, ruthless daughter of Marie Antoinette—who is determined to retake the French crown at any cost.
With the murderer striking ever closer, Sebastian must battle new fears about Hero’s health and that of their soon-to-be born child. When he realizes the key to their survival may lie in the hands of an old enemy, he must finally face the truth about his own guilt in a past he has found too terrible to consider.... 

My Review:

Once upon a time there was a legend about a prince locked in a tower, never to be seen again. You might be thinking this sounds familiar, but that there were two princes. This is not that story. Although the idea that the one about the two princes might have inspired this version, or at least might have made this version seem a bit more plausible, is not outside of the realms of possibility.

The earlier version of this legend, the one about the two princes in the tower, refers to the end of the Wars of the Roses, young Edward V of England and his brother Richard, and the perfidy – at least according to Shakespeare’s popular account, of their uncle Richard III.

Bones were discovered in the tower two centuries later and ascribed to the bodies of those two little boys. No one knows what really happened, hence the persistent legend.

Louis XVII, Dauphin of France, Portrait by Alexander Kucharsky, 1792

While the truth about the boys’ fate is was never discovered, the fact that it wasn’t clear in their own time led to a seemingly endless parade of opportunists pretending to be one or the other of the ‘lost’ princes, resulting in a simmering cauldron of uncertainty and doubt about the legitimacy of the English throne and the ability to topple whoever was sitting on it that lasted for DECADES.

In light of that history, both the known and the unknown, it’s not a stretch to think that, in the wake of the French Revolution, when the fate of the last heir to the throne seems to have been equally suspiciously, dubiously, and questionably unknown, that there would be rumors and even downright hopes that Louis XVII, the ‘Lost Dauphin’ (then aged EIGHT), had been spirited away from the inhuman conditions in which he was imprisoned to an unknown sanctuary, and that the child who died in his cell two years later was an imposter.

It seems like I’m talking all about the distant past rather than about the present matter in this book. And I am. But I’m also very much not, as ALL of the books in the Sebastian St. Cyr series are intimately involved with not merely the Regency period in which they are set, but with the great doings and underhanded dealings of the very month and year in which they take place.

Why Kings Confess opens in January of 1813. Those two princes in England’s Tower of London are over three centuries dead, but the Lost Dauphin is merely two decades into his, if he truly IS in his grave, that is. Napoleon Bonaparte is the Emperor of the French, but his popularity is very much on the wane after his catastrophic retreat from Russia’s most implacable field commander – ‘General Winter’.

As the story begins, Napoleon has sent a not-so-secret (utterly plausible but entirely fictional) embassy to England to negotiate a peace that England, and its unpopular Prince Regent, need as much as Napoleon does after ten years of the ruinously costly Napoleonic Wars.

The murder that opens Why Kings Confess is that of a young French doctor who was part of that peace overture. The palace, in the person of the shadowy power behind the throne, Lord Charles Jarvis, wants the murder hushed up. His enemy and son-in-law Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, disagrees. Strenuously.

Devlin knows the man wasn’t killed by footpads, because footpads don’t cut out their victims’ hearts – just their money and other valuables. As Devlin investigates, it begins to appear that the murder wasn’t related half so much to the current embassy as it was to the fate of the Lost Dauphin.

The deaths are certainly related to someone’s past, but when the second member of the embassy is also murdered, Devlin is forced to look both further afield and closer to home. Because the past that is coming to light is Devlin’s own.

Escape Rating A-: This week already felt like a week and a half by the time I picked this book up on Wednesday – and there were still two days to go. I needed a comfort read, and it had been just long enough since I finished my previous St. Cyr read that I was more than ready to dive back into Devlin’s era and escape my own for a bit. I confess that Why Kings Confess was absolutely the right book at the right time.

What makes this series work for me, every single time, is that every single story is an example of the proverbial three-legged stool where three story threads provide strength and balance to the story as a whole, keeping the reader sitting pretty and enthralled from the first page to the last.

First, there’s a murder. Generally there’s more than one. But when that first body drops Devlin becomes wrapped up in a case that reaches over to the second leg of the plot, the historical period in which this story is set, not just the year but down to the month and even the day, and the tendrils of that history reach down to the stinking underbelly of the glittering Regency all the way up to the dirty political deals being done by the high and mighty. And last, there’s the third leg that keeps it all in balance, as the entire series is Sebastian St. Cyr’s journey from a young, scarred, disillusioned war veteran to become the powerful force for justice that he needs to be to keep his own demons at bay.

I started this series for the historical mystery setting. St. Cyr has been a fascinating character from the very first page of What Angels Fear, and following his dangerous and deadly journey has been riveting from that beginning. But it’s the way that the character grows and changes, the way that he heals from the damage of war, in fits and starts and one step forward and sometimes two steps back, that makes him a leader, and a character, worth following from book to book and year to year.

At the same time, the thing that makes the series different from other historical mysteries is its deep and penetrating dive into its historical setting. I know enough to get caught up in the political skullduggery behind the deaths to get sucked right in, and then find myself looking up details just to get that little bit more meat out of everything he’s just experienced and I’ve just read.

Which is exactly the experience I expect from the next book in my St. Cyr catch-up read, Who Buries the Dead, the next time I go flailing around for a comfort read of justice delivered by a riveting character who cannot make himself stop trying to deliver that justice in spite of the odds stacked against him.

Review: What Darkness Brings by C.S. Harris

Review: What Darkness Brings by C.S. HarrisWhat Darkness Brings (Sebastian St. Cyr, #8) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #8
Pages: 349
Published by New American Library, Berkley on March 5, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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London, September 1812. After a long night spent dealing with the tragic death of a former military comrade, a heart-sick Sebastian learns of a new calamity: Russell Yates, the dashing, one-time privateer who married Sebastian’s former lover Kat Boleyn a year ago, has been found standing over the corpse of notorious London diamond merchant Benjamin Eisler. Yates insists he is innocent, but he will surely hang unless Sebastian can unmask the real killer. For the sake of Kat, the woman he once loved and lost, Sebastian plunges into a treacherous circle of intrigue. Although Eisler’s clients included the Prince Regent and the Emperor Napoleon, he was a despicable man with many enemies and a number of dangerous, well-kept secrets—including a passion for arcane texts and black magic. Central to the case is a magnificent blue diamond, believed to have once formed part of the French crown jewels, which disappeared on the night of Eisler’s death. As Sebastian traces the diamond’s ownership, he uncovers links that implicate an eccentric, powerful financier named Hope and stretch back into the darkest days of the French Revolution. When the killer grows ever more desperate and vicious, Sebastian finds his new marriage to Hero tested by the shadows of his first love, especially when he begins to suspect that Kat is keeping secrets of her own. And as matters rise to a crisis, Sebastian must face a bitter truth--that he has been less than open with the fearless woman who is now his wife.

My Review: 

The Hope Diamond in 1974

The Hope Diamond, the very real, very beautiful and very large Hope Diamond, is currently owned by the Smithsonian Museum and housed in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Once upon a time, the Hope Diamond was just a bit bigger than the 45.52 carats it is today and was part of the Crown Jewels of France. Then there was that little historical incident known as the French Revolution, and the Crown Jewels were first put on display and then stolen in 1792.

At which point it disappeared from history, only to reappear in its current size and setting in 1839 as the Hope Diamond in a gem catalog from the banking family of that name.

So where did it go between 1792 and 1839? It’s not exactly the kind of thing that a person could hawk on a street corner – or even take to the usual dealers in stolen goods. Because of its unusual color, it was too easy to trace – even after cutting it down from its original OMG 115 carats to the (still OMG) 67.125 carat gem that was part of the French Crown Jewels.

When the noted art collector, diamond merchant, high-priced pawnbroker and all-around thoroughly disgusting example of humanity Daniel Eisler is killed in his own front parlor, it’s not a case that would normally involve Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. But the man accused of the murder is dear to a woman Devlin once loved. She claims her husband is innocent – of that crime at least.

Devlin agrees to look into the killing, as it’s pretty obvious that whatever else is going on, there’s been somewhat of a rush to judgment, to the point where it looks like a fix is in. A fix that has tentacles that reach all the way up to the highest powers in that land – whether one defines those high and mighty powers as the Prince Regent or Devlin’s father-in-law, the power behind Prinny’s shaky throne.

At first, it doesn’t seem possible that the famous blue diamond could have anything to do with the death of a dealer whose hands it may have passed through, once upon a time. After all, Daniel Eisler – at least in his fictional incarnation – is such a thoroughgoing bastard that most who hear of his death consider it an improvement to humanity as a whole.

(Daniel Eisler was based on a real person, Daniel Eliason, who really does occupy a place in the history of the Hope Diamond at the time this story takes place. However, the real person does not seem to have been anything like as poor an excuse for a human being as his fictional counterpart.)

But the deeper Devlin digs, the more the diamond – and the agents of Napoleon still hunting it after twenty years – appears to be at the center of a case that otherwise gets darker and murkier as it goes.

Revealing secrets and lies that have lurked in the shadows of the seemingly war with France – and have the potential to rock Prinny’s unstable Regency to its foundations.

Escape Rating A: It’s not much of a surprise that after Tuesday’s book reminded me SO MUCH of St. Cyr that I would be hearing the siren song of the next book in my catch-up read of the series. I kind of wish I’d listened to that voice a bit more readily, as once I started What Darkness Brings I fell right into it with a grateful sigh.

One of the things that I’ve loved about this series is the way that it blends real historical events and figures with a story that often feels “ripped from the headlines” of its own era’s newspapers and gutter press.

Nearly all the history of the Hope Diamond and the French Blue diamond from which it was cut really happened – especially the truly wild bits about the original theft. The speculation about why that theft occurred and just how it got to England are not just plausible but have been looked into as possibilities over the centuries. One part of that speculation and conjecture in Devlin’s time, however, has been verified. In 2005, when scientific testing confirmed that the Hope Diamond was, in fact, cut from the gem in the French Crown Jewels.

At first, I didn’t think the plots in this entry in the series were going to reach nearly as high as they did, but once you read even a bit of the true history and the conjectures that surround it, it made sense that it turned out the way it did.

The way the murder, the theft plot and the real history branched and intertwined made this entry in the series one hell of a wild ride, while still tying up loose ends from previous entries and opening up entirely new fields of questions for future books in the series – some of which have admittedly been answered by the point where the series as a whole rests – hopefully temporarily – after Who Cries for the Lost closed its own set of doors and opened yet more to keep us all on pins and needles until the next entry in the series.

Next up in my catching up/filling in read of the St. Cyr series will be Why Kings Confess. And I confess that I’ll be picking that up the next time I’m looking for a comfort read, or guaranteed competence porn, or just have the urge to see what I missed with these marvelous characters!

Review: When Maidens Mourn by C.S. Harris

Review: When Maidens Mourn by C.S. HarrisWhen Maidens Mourn (Sebastian St. Cyr, #7) by C.S. Harris
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr, #7, #7
Pages: 341
Published by Berkley, New American Library on March 6, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Regency England, August 1812. Sebastian's plans to escape the heat of London for a honeymoon are shattered when the murdered body of Hero's good friend, Gabrielle Tennyson, is discovered drifting in a battered boat at the site of a long-vanished castle known as Camlet Moat. A beautiful young antiquarian, Miss Tennyson had recently provoked an uproar with her controversial identification of the island as the location of Camelot. Missing and presumed also dead are Gabrielle's two young cousins, nine-year-old George and three-year-old Alfred.Still struggling to define the nature of their new marriage, Sebastian and Hero find themselves occasionally working at cross-purposes as their investigation leads from London's medieval Inns of Court to its seedy back alleys, and from grand country homes to rural enclaves where ancient Celtic beliefs still hold sway. As he probes deeper, Sebastian also discovers dark secrets at the heart of the Tennyson family, and an enigmatic young French lieutenant with a dangerous, mysterious secret of his own.Racing to unmask a ruthless killer and unravel the puzzle of the missing children, Sebastian and Hero soon find both their lives and their growing love for each other at risk as their investigation leads to Hero's father, who is also Sebastian's long-time nemesis... and to a tall, dark stranger who may hold the key to Sebastian's own parentage.

My Review:

The legend of King Arthur has always loomed large over Britain, but even more so at times when the current monarch is less than popular. Or, as in the case of the corpulent, aging, spendthrift Prinny, Prince Regent for his mentally incapacitated father George III, not just unpopular but downright detested for his endless need for more money and therefore higher taxes to maintain his profligate lifestyle AND continue to prosecute Britain’s seemingly endless war with Napoleon and France.

At times like these, King Arthur, the “once and future king” shifts from being a mere legend to a figure of hope. People are looking for a savior from the hated Hanoverian dynasty and praying for a fated king from the mists of time and myth skirts the edges of treason without quite toppling into that abyss.

Not that Prinny isn’t scared out of his mind over the broadsheets that appear everywhere, and especially not that the powerful Lord Jarvis, propping up Prinny’s throne, isn’t looking for a way to tamp down the enthusiasm. No matter how many lies he has to tell, how many experts he has to blackmail, and how many people he has to kill in the cause of keeping Britain safe and Prinny’s throne secure.

Even if he has to lie to his daughter and have one of her dearest friends murdered. As far as Jarvis is concerned he’ll do whatever is necessary in service of what he considers, not merely the “Greater Good”, but the highest cause of all.

But the murder of Gabrielle Tennyson, his daughter Hero’s dear friend, puts Jarvis in opposition – again, pretty much perpetually – to Hero’s new husband, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. As always, Devlin is determined to get to the bottom of this devilishly complicated case that has, so far, left one woman dead and put her two missing nephews in danger of following her into the grave – if they haven’t already.

While the conflict between Hero’s loyalties and Devlin’s secrets open a chasm in their barely-begun, frequently tense relationship and ink-barely-dry marriage. A chasm they may not be able to navigate across – not even for the sake of the child they married to protect.

Escape Rating A+: The Sebastian St. Cyr series, as a collective whole, comprises three elements that are endlessly fascinating. As historical mysteries, they generally begin with a dead body, in this particular case that of Gabrielle Tennyson. Thus there is always a case to be solved, with St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, as the principal investigator into whodunnit and often more importantly, why it was done and all too often, who ordered it done.

The who ordered it part leads directly to the second element. These stories take place during the Napoleonic Wars or in their immediate aftermath. Devlin served as a cavalry officer and suffers from PTSD as a result of that service. His penchant for investigating murders is one of the ways he copes with his condition.

But Devlin is a member of the aristocracy, the heir to an Earldom. When he pokes his nose into the doings of the ‘high and mighty’ he can’t be ignored or shoved aside – not that plenty haven’t tried. As a consequence, there is quite often a political element to his investigations, along with a deeper than usual dive into the frequently rancid sausage-making of government – with insights into history as they are happening.

When Maidens Mourn dives into that morass from a surprising direction, as the murder of Gabrielle Tennyson leads back to the government’s underhanded contrivance to put the legend of King Arthur to rest. Again. (“This has all happened before and it will all happen again.”)

Diving into the Arthurian legends in this particular instance proved to be doubly poignant, as it touches, indirectly and fictionally, on the very real Arthur, Lord Tennyson, who will grow up to write The Idylls of the King, a Victorian reimagining of, you guessed it, the legends of King Arthur.

Along with the investigation and the politics and history, there’s a third, personal element to each story, an element that at first seemed the most prominent in this case. Devlin and Hero have been married a scant four days when this story opens. Their marriage is one of necessity, as Devlin needs an heir, and Hero is carrying that heir after the events in Where Serpents Sleep, when they spent one night grasping for life while expecting to die.

Hero is the daughter of Devlin’s greatest enemy, and she is now trapped between two conflicting sets of secrets, a conflict that may cost her any possibility of happiness in her hasty but necessary marriage. Devlin has secrets of his own that he does not want to reveal to a woman he is not sure he can trust – and yet there can be no trust if one of them doesn’t give up something.

Part of what makes this series so interesting is that Hero is likely to prove the one with the stronger will and the better reason not to compromise, but as things stand at the end of this book, how they will go on together is yet uncertain.

At least, it’s uncertain at this particular point in the series. I began reading St. Cyr almost 20 years ago, at the beginning with What Angels Fear. At first, it read as a combination of historical mystery firmly grounded in its historical period with a touch of romance. What initially captivated me was that combination of history and mystery, and the way that the historical period has come to the fore – as well as the continuing development of this fascinating cast of characters – has made this one of my favorite comfort reads.

So I’ve read the early books and the later books and am hit or miss in the middle. I’m systematically changing those misses to hits as I wait for each new book in the series. Which means that next up will be What Darkness Brings, the next time I need a reading pick-me-up to whisk me away!

Review: Who Cries for the Lost by C.S. Harris

Review: Who Cries for the Lost by C.S. HarrisWho Cries for the Lost (Sebastian St. Cyr, #18) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #18
Pages: 352
Published by Berkley on April 18, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

June 1815. The people of London wait, breathlessly, for news as Napoleon and the forces united against him hurtle toward their final reckoning at Waterloo. Among them is Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, frustrated to find himself sidelined while recovering from a dangerous wound he recently received in Paris. When the mutilated corpse of Major Miles Sedgewick surfaces from the murky waters of the Thames, Sebastian is drawn into the investigation of a murder that threatens one of his oldest and dearest friends, Irish surgeon Paul Gibson.
Gibson’s lover, Alexi Sauvage, was tricked into a bigamous marriage with the victim. But there are other women who may have wanted the cruel, faithless Major dead. His mistress, his neglected wife, and their young governess who he seduced all make for compelling suspects. Even more interesting to Sebastian is one of Sedgewick’s fellow officers, a man who shared Sedgewick’s macabre interest in both old English folklore and the occult. And then there’s a valuable list of Londoners who once spied for Napoleon that Sedgewick was said to be transporting to Charles, Lord Jarvis, the Regent’s powerful cousin who also happens to be Sebastian’s own father-in-law.
The deeper Sebastian delves into Sedgewick’s life, the more he learns about the Major’s many secrets and the list of people who could have wanted him dead grows even longer. Soon others connected to Sedgewick begin to die strange, brutal deaths and more evidence emerges that links Alexi to the crimes. Certain that Gibson will be implicated alongside his lover, Sebastian finds himself in a desperate race against time to stop the killings and save his friends from the terror of the gallows.

My Review:

I had always planned to read this book. At this point there are a few books in the middle of the series I haven’t read, but St. Cyr is such a comfort read for me that I’ll be filling in those gaps whenever I need a reading pick-me-up filled with the perfect blend of history and mystery.

But last week I was bouncing hard off of every book I started, and I remembered that this was coming out soon and was guaranteed to solve my inability to settle on a good book with book I knew would be compelling and instantly absorbing.

And so it proved.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is a fascinating character because of his inability to stop poking his aristocratic nose into situations that the majority of the people in what should be his circle would much prefer he didn’t. At least the people who would be if he wasn’t still suffering from what to our minds looks like a roiling boil of PTSD and survivor’s guilt.

St. Cyr served as a cavalry officer and sometimes an undercover operative in the worst places and days of the Napoleonic Wars. Wars that are not quite over when this entry in the series takes place in June of 1815, barely a season after the events of the previous book in the series, the excellent When Blood Lies.

The timing of this story is significant, both in the wider world and in St. Cyr’s personal timeline. He is still recovering from a severe injury that occurred in that previous book, an injury that he is pushing himself much too hard to recover from.

Not just because he’s that kind of person, but because he’s more than politically astute enough to know that the inevitable result of Napoleon’s escape from Elba on March 1 means that a battle between whatever forces Napoleon can raise and the English forces on the continent is inevitable. And that the British high command has their collective heads up their collective arses.

St. Cyr isn’t after glory. He feels like he owes it to the men he served with to see as many of them as possible through the coming battle. But he’s all too aware that he isn’t ready.

The overarching tension of Who Cries for the Lost is all focused on the continent. Communication is NOT instantaneous. The entire country – including its government – is on tenterhooks waiting for news from the battlefields. While the early news is very confused and mostly not good.

But amidst the heightened tensions boiling abroad, agents of the restored Bourbon dynasty, temporarily in exile and hopefully soon to be restored again and propped up by England, and agents of Napoleon’s government are waging a bit of a proxy war – or a last chance to settle old scores – on St. Cyr’s doorstep.

Not literally his, but rather that of his friend Paul Gibson, the anatomist who does autopsies for Scotland Yard.

One of their former comrades-in-arms, one they honestly hoped to never see again, has turned up on Gibson’s autopsy table – without either his head or his hands. Gibson recognizes the man from the scars of wounds that he himself treated in the field. But Gibson’s lover knows the mutilated corpse’s identity even before the autopsy begins.

He used to be her husband. Or at least, he once deceived her into thinking that was so. Which makes her the prime suspect for his murder. After all, she is merely a French émigré, and the late unlamented was a second son of the aristocracy. His brother is determined that this woman who stained his brother’s name (there’s a HUGE hahaha there) pay for the crime, whether she did it or not.

Or course, St. Cyr is not so sure. Not because he believes Alexi Sauvage is incapable of murder, just that the circumstances of this crime are physically beyond her. And the dead man was a complete bounder and everyone who served with him knew it all too well and to their cost.

But if it’s not a crime of passion, then what got Miles Sedgewick killed? And why are so many influential people trying so hard to cover up the crime?

St. Cyr won’t rest until he finds out – because he never does. Especially as the pile of mutilated corpses continues to rise.

Escape Rating A+: This was, absolutely, the right book at the right time. I was all in from the very first page, and didn’t let go until after I turned the very last page. As it should be.

I’m also aware that I’m writing a LOT about this book. Which is, quite honestly, part of the charm of the whole damn series. There is always a LOT going on in each book, and it’s always on more than one level. Hence the compulsion once I start one to pretty much barrel right through until the end.

So every book in the series, at this point at least, has two threads that dovetail into each other. On one level, there’s a murder. The stories usually kick off (pun intended) with the discovery of a corpse. There’s a detective, St. Cyr, often with the assistance of his wife Hero and the anatomist Paul Gibson, as well as Sir Henry Lovejoy, currently the most active governor of Scotland Yard, and even his legal father the Earl of Hendon (there’s a story behind that story as well). All too frequently there’s the general and sometimes specific opposition of Sir Henry Jarvis, the power behind the Prince Regent’s regency AND St. Cyr’s father in law.

From a certain perspective, St. Cyr is Sherlock Holmes nearly a century early and Jarvis is a version of Mycroft that bears rather a sharp resemblance to the extremely manipulative and sociopathic version of the character that Mary Russell is on the outs with in the Russell/Holmes series by Laurie R. King.

St. Cyr’s investigations are always complex and convoluted, because the crimes that he involves himself with seem to inevitably stretch into the halls of power in one way or another. His investigations frequently make the powerful uncomfortable because he is an insider who should be on their side – but is absolutely not.

Mixed in with the usual sort of mystery that opens each book are the history and politics of the period. That’s been especially apparent in this book and the previous as all the events of the story are woven with significant historical events, in the case of this book, the tension in England as everyone waits for news of the battle that will go down in history as Waterloo.

A battle whose outcome seems predetermined as we view it with 20/20 hindsight, but was far from as certain in the days leading up to it. Napoleon WAS a tactical genius, while Wellington was far too busy attending balls and chasing his officers’ wives to give the matter the attention it was due – and entirely too many people knew that.

What kept this reader going through the story was the skill with which the two threads were woven together. Was Sedgewick killed for his many, many misdeeds? Or was he killed to stop, or conceal, treason or espionage? Or was it purely revenge? Or all of the above? Getting that question answered while exploring St. Cyr’s world made for a compelling read. As it has every single time since What Angels Fear in 2005 (or 1811 from St. Cyr’s perspective.)

Thankfully, this series feels far from over. So I have high hopes of seeing St. Cyr’s next adventure sometime next spring. In the meantime, I’ll continue to investigate the few books in the series I missed along the way. Next time I’m looking for a reading pick-me-up I’ll be diving into When Maidens Mourn.

Review: Where Shadows Dance by C.S. Harris

Review: Where Shadows Dance by C.S. HarrisWhere Shadows Dance (Sebastian St. Cyr, #6) by C.S. Harris
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #6
Pages: 342
Published by Berkley, New American Library on March 1, 2011
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
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How do you set about solving a murder no one can reveal has been committed?
Regency London, July 1812.
That's the challenge confronting C.S. Harris's aristocratic soldier-turned-sleuth Sebastian St. Cyr when his friend, surgeon and "anatomist" Paul Gibson, illegally buys the cadaver of a young man from London's infamous body snatchers. A rising star at the Foreign Office, Mr. Alexander Ross was reported to have died of a weak heart. But when Gibson discovers a stiletto wound at the base of Ross's skull, he can turn only to Sebastian for help in catching the killer.
Described by all who knew him as an amiable young man, Ross at first seems an unlikely candidate for murder. But as Sebastian's search takes him from the Queen's drawing rooms in St. James's Palace to the embassies of Russia, the United States, and the Turkish Empire, he plunges into a dangerous shadow land of diplomatic maneuvering and international intrigue, where truth is an elusive commodity and nothing is as it seems.
Meanwhile, Sebastian must confront the turmoil of his personal life. Hero Jarvis, daughter of his powerful nemesis Lord Jarvis, finally agrees to become his wife. But as their wedding approaches, Sebastian can't escape the growing realization that not only Lord Jarvis but Hero herself knows far more about the events surrounding Ross's death than they would have him believe.
Then a second body is found, badly decomposed but bearing the same fatal stiletto wound. And Sebastian must race to unmask a ruthless killer who is now threatening the life of his reluctant bride and their unborn child.

My Review:

Once upon a time, back in 2005, author C.S. Harris created a character who was the epitome of the typical Regency romance hero, tall, dark and brooding, handsome and aristocratic, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars and damaged by his service, plagued by dark thoughts and even darker secrets.

Then she invested him with a desire, bordering on compulsion, to investigate the darker corners of the society he by rights should sit on top of, and set him on a course to balance the scales of justice no matter the position of whosoever gets crushed by their weight.

Thus began the Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series with What Angels Fear, defying expectations from the very first page.

I was hooked back in 2005, and devoured the first five books in the series as they were published. Until, as so many things do, the series got caught up in the black hole of “so many books, so little time” and I stopped following until I was asked to review the eleventh book in the series, When Falcons Fall, for Library Journal in 2016.

And I was hooked again.

I always intended to go back and read the ones I missed, but we’re back at that “so many books, so little time” thing again. This year I’ve decided to make a deliberate effort to read at least the earliest books on my various wishlists, and the gaps I left in reading this series appeared on every list.

So I’ve returned to Regency England and Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, as he reaches the turning point in his life that all those later books in the series presented as a ‘fait accompli’ In 1812, Where Shadows Dance, that thing is just at the beginning of being decided as political factions in Britain are debating just how many of their own fronts they must defend as they determine which – if any – of their allies to aid in the ongoing war with Napoleon.

Amidst all the political turmoil, Devlin’s friend and former comrade-in-arms and current Scotland Yard pathologist (such as that job is in 1812), Dr. Paul Gibson discovers that someone has passed off a murder as a heart attack when he conducts an illicit autopsy on a body he’s not supposed to have, from a source he’s not supposed to know, committing a crime he can never admit to. All he knows is that the young and very dead Foreign Service agent on his autopsy table is the victim of a murder that someone seems to have been desperate to cover up.

Gibson knows one other thing – that his friend Devlin can be trusted to find the truth about the case – no matter how many people in high places are determined to cover it up.

Escape Rating A+: This turned out to be the perfect book to serve as a return to an earlier point in the series. Devlin is facing a personal crossroads, as he has been forced to set aside both the dreams and the defiances that marked his earlier life. He’s about to turn a new page and is aware enough of that to begin a consideration of how his own life has to change – changes that have been made manifest by the later books that I have already read.

Very much at the same time, and part of what continues to fascinate me in this series, is the way that the author weaves an intensely felt sense of the time and place in which Devlin lives with a historical setting filled with conflict and change that becomes both background and foreground to a murder mystery that satisfies readers who are there for the whodunnit.

This story takes place in 1812, a date that should sound familiar to any American reader as U.S. history named a war after it. From our perspective, the War of 1812 might be the only history we remember from that year, but from a British perspective, particularly at the time, the possibility that the U.S. might be itching for an opportunity to invade and take Canada wasn’t the biggest threat on the horizon.

That position was very much reserved for Napoleon Bonaparte, with whom Britain was still most definitely at war. As was most of the rest of Europe. Britain is in negotiations with seemingly all of Napoleon’s enemies, including the Ottoman Empire, Sweden and particularly Russia. Some in Britain want to send troops and/or money to all of the above, while many are more cautious about opening a second front just in case those pesky Americans get too obstreperous about the continuing seizure of American sailors by the British Navy.

The political maneuvering is in the background of the story when Gibson discovers that the body he intended to open up in order to learn more about heart disease turns out to have already been opened up by a stiletto to the spine. That the young cadaver worked in the Foreign Service and seems to have been in those frantic negotiations up to his neck is just the barest hint of the shenanigans that Devlin eventually uncovers – one confusing, conflicting piece at a time.

What makes this series – and this particular entry in it – continue to work for me is its combination of very effective elements. Not just Devlin, but all of the people who populate his slice of Regency England are utterly fascinating and most importantly feel like whole and wholly real, people. Even though I know they (mostly) weren’t. I still feel for them and with them and care about them. Or occasionally hate them – just as Devlin does.

The portrayal of the historical period feels spot on. My own studies brushed on this era a bit, but not nearly enough to catch inaccuracies in the details. It still feels right, to the point of sensing the cobbles under my feet and smelling the stink of Gibson’s utterly inadequate mortuary.

And I love the way the known historical conflicts of the time, both in government in England and in the wider world, are neither ignored nor brushed aside but instead inform every aspect of the mystery and give it depth and substance. All while a murder is committed, the crime is investigated, and evil gets its just desserts even as the story acknowledges that there are plenty of other – and often worse – evils afoot in that wider world that Devlin has yet to deal with. If he can.

Those are the elements that keep me turning pages while I’m reading one of Devlin’s investigations, and keep me coming back for more. So I absolutely will be back, both for my continuing explorations of those books I missed, and for Devlin’s latest investigation in Who Cries for the Lost, coming this April.

Review: When Blood Lies by C.S. Harris

Review: When Blood Lies by C.S. HarrisWhen Blood Lies (Sebastian St. Cyr, #17) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #17
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on April 5, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.orgBetter World Books
Goodreads

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has spent years unraveling his family’s tragic history. But the secrets of his past will come to light in this gripping new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of What the Devil Knows.
March, 1815. The Bourbon King Louis XVIII has been restored to the throne of France, Napoleon is in exile on the isle of Elba, and Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife, Hero, have traveled to Paris in hopes of tracing his long-lost mother, Sophie, the errant Countess of Hendon. But his search ends in tragedy when he comes upon the dying Countess in the wasteland at the tip of the Île de la Cité. Stabbed—apparently with a stiletto—and thrown from the bastions of the island’s ancient stone bridge, Sophie dies without naming her murderer.
Sophie had been living in Paris under an assumed name as the mistress of Maréchal Alexandre McClellan, the scion of a noble Scottish Jacobite family that took refuge in France after the Forty-Five Rebellion. Once one of Napoleon’s most trusted and successful generals, McClellan has now sworn allegiance to the Bourbons and is serving in the delegation negotiating on behalf of France at the Congress of Vienna. It doesn’t take Sebastian long to realize that the French authorities have no interest in involving themselves in the murder of a notorious Englishwoman at such a delicate time. And so, grieving and shattered by his mother’s death, Sebastian takes it upon himself to hunt down her killer. But what he learns will not only shock him but could upend a hard-won world peace.

My Review:

“Able was I ere I saw Elba,” at least according to a palindrome attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte during his later captivity on the island of Saint Helena. But that’s later. This seventeenth book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series takes place during the spring of 1815 – with Napoleon’s escape from Elba forming the backdrop – and providing some of the motivations – for St. Cyr’s investigation.

Which is where that title comes in.

The St. Cyr series, from its very beginning in What Angels Fear, has revolved around Sebastian St. Cyr’s search for his own identity. As the series began in 1811, St. Cyr used the tools he learned as an agent of the crown, not just in France during the Napoleonic Wars but in other equally dangerous places, to catch a killer and prove his own innocence into the bargain.

Sebastian was operating from a position of relative privilege – even under an accusation of murder. He was the third son and last remaining heir of the Earl of Hendon, carried the courtesy title of Viscount Devlin, and believed that his mother had died 20 years earlier at sea, attempting to escape her marriage and her family. He thinks his father resents him for his mother’s betrayal and their relationship is strained.

Over the course of the series Sebastian has learned that pretty much none of what he believed at the beginning was true. He is not the offspring of the man he calls father – although they have reconciled. And his mother has been alive all these years. Now that the war between France and England is over, Sebastian is in Paris, along with his wife and two children, to meet his mother and ask all the questions that have been churning inside him since he learned the truth.

Only for his mother to die in his arms, stabbed in the back by an unknown assailant for an equally unknown reason. All his questions still unanswered, but swallowed up in the ones that have just presented themselves.

Who killed the wayward Countess of Hendon, better known in Paris as Dame Sophia Capello? And more importantly, not just for St. Cyr but also for the roiling political pot that is on the boil in both France and England, why was she killed? And why was she killed right then, just as Napoleon is about to sweep into Paris from Elba?

Did her death have something to do with her own recent visit to the exiled emperor? Was she a secret Bonapartist? Or was she a spy for one of the other factions hoping to rule a still fractured and bleeding France?

In his search for the answers to Sophie’s death, St. Cyr runs across a possible answer to a question he’s been asking for 20 years – an answer he’s still afraid to discover.

Was the man whose portrait hangs so prominently in Sophia’s house his real father?

Escape Rating A+: If you are looking for historical fiction that is steeped in its time period to the point where you feel the cobbles under your feet as you walk, then the St. Cyr series absolutely cannot be beat. The series doesn’t just wink and nod at its period, it immerses the reader and the story deeply into what is happening as the hero works his way both through his world and through the mystery that confronts him.

The history in When Blood Lies is about what it feels like to be in the eye of a storm. The storm being France for the past 20something years as the country has careened from absolute monarchy to revolution to near-anarchy to dictatorship and quite possibly back around again. Everyone knows Napoleon is coming back, it’s only a question of when. The restored monarchy seems to have made it their life goal to make the field as ripe as possible for Napoleon’s return by adopting the worst behaviors of their predecessors.

Which doesn’t mean that Napoleon’s return isn’t still going to be awful and bloody and bloody awful. Even if his return is what the French people want, there are too many powers-that-be around Europe who won’t allow him to retake his throne without a fight. (Waterloo, anyone?)

As St. Cyr conducts his investigation, conditions in Paris are breaking down around him. The regime is about to change forcibly – and everyone knows it. Lies and loyalties have suddenly become fluid – as if they’ve ever been solid in the recent decades. He’s desperate to find witnesses and perpetrators before they flee the coming storm or are consumed by it. He’s lost his last chance to question his mother, and his chance to find her killer is rapidly disintegrating.

At the same time, this is, as the series has always been, St. Cyr’s quest for identity. He’s made peace with his legally recognized father, the Earl of Hendon. He is Hendon’s acknowledged heir. The truth about his heritage, even if it comes out, might not change that fact, as his mother was married to the man when Sebastian was born, Hendon acknowledged him as his son, and there isn’t anyone else as Sebastian’s two older brothers deceased long before they had children of their own. His older sister knows his true origins and hates him for them, but she has only daughters and so far her daughters have only daughters so he’s it whether she likes it or not. (If one of her daughters manages to have a son things might get dicey in the legal sense but that hasn’t happened yet.)

But he still wants to know who fathered him. From whom he inherited his distinctive yellow wolf’s eyes and his preternaturally acute senses. On his mother’s wall, there’s a painting of a man who might as well be Sebastian himself in 20 or 30 years. A Scotsman who fought on the French side in the late wars. Who Sebastian might have faced on one or more battlefields.

He clearly needs to know the truth, but now isn’t sure he wants to know it. A truth that he’ll not soon have the chance to discover, as France and England are plunged into war again just as the book concludes.

I came into this series at the very beginning, because the original description of St. Cyr was so fascinating that I had to see what the whole thing was about. Over the course of the series, which consumes four years in book-time and seventeen in the real world, St. Cyr has changed and grown, but he has consistently been compelling and his investigations absolutely riveting, while the depth of the portrait of his life and world has increased in complexity every step of the way.

It’s clear from the way that When Blood Lies ends that there is more yet to come, as France and England are about to be plunged back into the war that still haunts St. Cyr’s nightmares. I can’t wait to find out what happens next, whether he fights or spies – or a bit of both – and how much of himself he discovers along the way.

Review: What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris + Giveaway

Review: What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris + GiveawayWhat the Devil Knows (Sebastian St. Cyr, #16) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery, thriller
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #16
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on April 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

Sebastian St. Cyr thought a notorious serial killer had been brought to justice until a shocking series of gruesome new murders stuns the city in this thrilling historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Who Speaks for the Damned.
It's October 1814. The war with France is finally over and Europe's diplomats are convening in Vienna for a conference that will put their world back together. With peace finally at hand, London suddenly finds itself in the grip of a series of heinous murders eerily similar to the Ratcliffe Highway murders of three years before.
In 1811, two entire families were viciously murdered in their homes. A suspect--a young seaman named John Williams--was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Williams hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way three years later and others possibly connected to the original case meet violent ends, the city is paralyzed with terror once more.
Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym's colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Williams was not the real killer. Which begs the question--who was and why are they dead set on killing again?

My Review:

If you like your historical mystery very much on the dark and gritty side, you absolutely cannot go wrong with Sebastian St. Cyr. The feeling of being in his moment with him is so strong that the reader just can’t turn their eyes away until the mystery is solved – and that’s been true for 16 books now and hopefully counting.

Because it’s clear at the end of What the Devil Knows that this particular mystery may be solved – for certain definitions of the word solved – but that there are many greater – and lesser – mysteries yet to be revealed.

The most important being the mystery of St. Cyr’s very existence. Although his current case is less personal and a whole lot bloodier.

When St. Cyr is called in to investigate the grisly death of a corrupt magistrate, he knows that the case is already bigger than it seems as it appears that the perpetrator of the heinous Ratcliff Highway Murders (the original murders really happened) has struck again. But that man was executed three years previously, and the killings stopped. Even the doubters were silenced in the intervening three years.

But as St. Cyr investigates the latest murders, he becomes certain that there was a rush to judgment, aided and abetted by the government who needed to calm a roiling – and occasionally rioting – populace. The need for reform was in direct conflict with the government’s fear of a revolution every bit as destructive to the upper classes – and the country as a whole – as the French Revolution that was not just within living memory, but whose results were still being felt.

No one in the government, especially not St. Cyr’s father-in-law Charles Jarvis, the power behind the Prince Regent’s self-indulgent, shaky, profligate regency, wants St. Cyr to poke his nose into the original case. It’s too obvious that there was a fix in, and too many people involved in that fix have died in its wake.

And that’s just what St. Cyr finds. Three new and very flashy murders connected to that original miscarriage of justice. Along with a whole lot of very, very quiet stabbings in the dark.

Escape Rating A+: One of the things that makes this series so marvelous is the way that it exposes the dark underbelly of the Regency. As a result of the popularity of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling Regency romances, when we think of the period we think of romantic aristocrats, the strict rules of the haut ton, and a lot of glitz and glamour.

St. Cyr’s restless investigations into the seamier side of the Regency, reveals all of the creeping, oozing, frightening things that you find when you kick over a rock, just that in this case the rock is very, very shiny and hides more muck than expected because we’ve all been blinded by that shine.

It’s not just that bad things happen to bad people – although they do – or even that bad things happen to good people – but it’s the way that so much of what is wrong has been perpetrated and perpetuated by those in power, supposedly for the greater good. Or at least for Britain’s good. But usually for their own good.

And all of that has resonance for the 21st century while still leaving St. Cyr as a man of his own time. He’s someone who is on the outside of both worlds and has the intelligence and the vision to see what is wrong along with the will not to turn his eyes away.

That’s what makes him a hero worth following from one investigation and one mystery to another, 16 books and very much hopefully counting.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

This is the second book giveaway for my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, and it’s also the second time that a book in the St. Cyr series has come out just in time for me to include among the week’s giveaways.

The winner of today’s giveaway will receive their choice of one book by C.S. Harris (up to $25 US to include What the Devil Knows), whether in the St. Cyr series or written as Candice Proctor or C.S. Graham. If you have not yet had the pleasure of making Sebastian St. Cyr’s acquaintance, I recommend starting that series at the beginning in What Angels Fear.

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Review: The Deadly Hours by Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, Christine Trent

Review: The Deadly Hours by Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, Christine TrentThe Deadly Hours by Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, Christine Trent
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, romantic suspense
Pages: 352
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on September 1, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBookshop.org
Goodreads

A stellar line-up of historical mystery novelists weaves the tale of a priceless and cursed gold watch as it passes through time wreaking havoc from one owner to another. The characters are irrevocably linked by fate, each playing a key role in breaking the curse and destroying the watch once and for all.
From 1733 Italy to Edinburgh in 1831 to a series of chilling murders in 1870 London, and a lethal game of revenge decades later, the watch touches lives with misfortune, until it comes into the reach of one young woman who might be able to stop it for good.
This outstanding collaboration of authors includes:Susanna Kearsley – New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of compelling time slip fiction.C.S. Harris – bestselling author of the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series.Anna Lee Huber – award-winning author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries. Christine Trent – author of the Lady of Ashes Victorian mystery series.

My Review:

It’s not so much the hours that are deadly, as the watch that counts them as it passes from one dead hand to another, carrying disaster and destruction on its way.

That watch, La Sirène, links the four novellas that make up The Deadly Hours, as the watch’s story is taken up by four different authors as it surfaces in four completely different eras.

We begin following La Sirène in Italy in 1733, although the watch has already acquired a storied – and checkered – history by that point, as has the man who carries her into Portofino. The watch, and the curse on it, originated with freebooter Vautour’s infamous father, also a freebooter. There was a war – there was always a war – and the freebooters didn’t get paid for the “work” they did in Cartagena. So they took their own payment in blood. And in the case of Vautour père, in the gold that the churches had attempted to hide.

That’s where the curse came in. Not just because the elder Vautour stole from the church, and was cursed for it by the priest he tortured, but because the church, in its turn, as it did, stole the gold from the religions that held sway in the Americas before they arrived to “convert the heathens”.

The cursed gold was made into a beautiful pocket watch, La Sirène, with a mermaid on its case and words etched on its opposite side that translate as “I am the only master of my time.” The reader may question who the “I” refers to in this, whether that’s the watch’s owner, the watch’s original creator, or the watch itself. A person could be forgiven for thinking the watch is actually in charge of pretty much everything.

In 1733, the curse catches up with Vautour the younger – or perhaps it’s merely his life as a freebooter. Or, in this particular case, the company he keeps. Carrying an assassin aboard one’s ship can result in collateral damage, in this case to both Vautour and the assassin, both of whom were obsessed, in entirely different ways, with La Sirène.

No one else involved wants to touch the damned thing, except the innkeeper, who pockets the watch after everyone else deliberately leaves it in a dead man’s pocket, intending it to be buried with him.

Each time the watch resurfaces, in 1831, 1870 and finally 1944, it brings death and destruction to everyone it touches – especially the descendants of those stranded travelers who hosted a pirate and an assassin at that inn in Portofino all the way back at the very beginning.

Until La Sirène finds herself in the hands of someone who deserves ALL the bad luck she has stored within her – and finally fulfills the conditions of her curse. Unless…she’s out there still.

Escape Rating A-: As I pretty much poured through this story it struck me that there was more than one story being told in this braided set of novellas.

There’s the obvious one, of course, the story of La Sirène through the centuries and just how many terrible events seem to follow in her wake. You don’t have to believe in the curse, and many of the people who cross her path are at least skeptical of it, but the mind is a powerful thing. Even if the “curse” is really people searching for meaning in a hellacious coincidence of bad luck, or if people blame the watch when it’s really just people giving into their baser instincts and blaming it on the watch, the events still occur. Whether they would have occurred without her, well, no one will ever know, will they?

But these novellas, while each complete in and of themselves, are also portraits of a series of romantic relationships. And no matter what century they are set in, each portrays a relationship where the partners are negotiating just how to not merely be together, but how to be equals together in societies that don’t expect men and women to be equal. The men seem to be, to a man, learning how to let their partners into a world that holds danger and excitement in equal measure, and that they were taught that women are to be protected from. But all of their partners are women who embody a saying that is strangely apropos, the one about a ship in harbor being safe, but that not being what ships are built for. None of these negotiations are easy, but all of them will result in much happier relationships – if they can figure out how to go about it.

And that leads to another thread that lurks under the individual novellas. With the exception of the final story, Siren’s Call by C.S. Harris (and the one I picked up this book FOR), we are reading about couples who are already in a relationship, but are still in the process of figuring out how it’s going to work. As a reader, I had the sense that there was more story about these people that I hadn’t read. I didn’t need to in order to get into the action in their portion of THIS story, but I could tell there was more and I WANTED it.

It drove me crazy, so I had to hunt for them.

In Weapon of Choice, Susanna Kearsley combined the historical characters from three of her time slip books, A Desperate Fortune, The Firebird and The Rose Garden, into one chance meeting at that inn in Portofino. Anna Lee Huber’s In a Fevered Hour takes place sometime during her Lady Darby series, and features the lead couple of from that series, Lady Darby and her second husband, the private inquiry agent Sebastian Gage. This series sounds fascinating and I’m planning to look into them more deeply. Likewise, the primary investigator in A Pocketful of Death by Christine Trent is Violet Harper, a Victorian era undertaker! I really liked the character of Violet and will probably look up her series (Lady of Ashes) sometime too, but I found her story to fit into the braiding of this collection a bit less tightly than the others.

All in all, this was a fun “collection” of historical mysteries, did a great job of telling its entire story while sharing its parts, and had a wow of a surprise ending. And, AND it’s a terrific introduction to the writing of a fantastic group of historical romantic suspense/mystery writers, making The Deadly Hours a win-win all the way around!