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 & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
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 & NobleKoboBook Depository
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: Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris + Giveaway

Review: Who Speaks for the Damned by C.S. Harris + GiveawayWho Speaks for the Damned (Sebastian St. Cyr, #15) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #15
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on April 7, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Sebastian St. Cyr investigates the mysterious life and death of a nobleman accused of murder in this enthralling new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Why Kill the Innocent....

It's June 1814, and the royal families of Austria, Russia, and the German states have gathered in London at the Prince Regent's invitation to celebrate the defeat of Napoléon and the restoration of monarchical control throughout Europe. But the festive atmosphere is marred one warm summer evening by the brutal murder of a disgraced British nobleman long thought dead.

Eighteen years before, Nicholas Hayes, the third son of the late Earl of Seaford, was accused of killing a beautiful young French émigré and transported to Botany Bay for life. Even before his conviction, Hayes had been disowned by his father. Few in London were surprised when they heard the ne'er-do-well had died in New South Wales in 1799. But those reports were obviously wrong. Recently Hayes returned to London with a mysterious young boy in tow--a child who vanishes shortly after Nicholas's body is discovered.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is drawn into the investigation by his valet, Jules Calhoun. With Calhoun's help, Sebastian begins to piece together the shattered life of the late Earl's ill-fated youngest son. Why did Nicholas risk his life and freedom by returning to England? And why did he bring the now-missing young boy with him? Several nervous Londoners had reason to fear that Nicholas Hayes had returned to kill them. One of them might have decided to kill him first.

My Review:

Once upon a time, the author of the Sebastian St. Cyr series described how she came to write St. Cyr and his series. She said that she wanted to create a character who seemed, on the surface, to be the epitome of the Regency hero; tall, dark, handsome and brooding. (I think with emphasis on the brooding.) But then to explicitly NOT make him the hero of a Regency romance. Thus was Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, born.

A much later description of Devlin referred to him as Darcy with more than a touch of James Bond, but that doesn’t really feel right. St. Cyr seems to have always been carrying too much emotional baggage to have ever been Darcy, while his adventures and investigations take him into much darker places than Bond usually goes and afford him considerably fewer technological toys – even ones that would have existed in the Regency.

St. Cyr relies on his instincts, his brains and his considerable ability to fight as dirty as necessary, whether that fight involves fisticuffs, social exposure or politics – as much as he hates the latter options when needed.

When his story began in 2005 – or in 1811 in St. Cyr’s world, England was on the brink of the Regency and St. Cyr was a battle-scarred veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, unable to settle or sleep, wracked with PTSD after his life-altering experiences in a war that had not yet ended. (Even by the time period of this 15th book in the series, 1814, the war is still not over. It is merely in abeyance during Napoleon’s exile on the island of Elba.)

St. Cyr, as the heir to an earldom, should be one of the Regency dandies that appear in the pages of so many romances set in the period. Instead, he has become an unofficial and unpaid murder investigator with the help of the head of the newly formed police agency at Bow Street. His membership at the highest levels of the aristocracy allows him to poke his nose into many, many places where a simple copper would be thrown out the back door.

Even his father-in-law, the Prince Regent’s cousin and spymaster Jarvis, is forced to deal with St. Cyr whether he likes it or not. And he definitely does not.

This latest entry in the series is an enthralling mystery that does an especially good job of exposing the glitter of the Regency Era as the bio-luminescence of something rotting in the dark, as St. Cyr finds himself investigating the death of a man who is all too much like the one that he sees in his own mirror. There but for the grace of god, and just a few scraps of luck that turned good instead of bad, would have gone St. Cyr.

It’s a case he can’t let go of, no matter how many times he’s warned off. And no matter how high the halls of power that he needs to bring low.

Escape Rating A+: It should be fairly clear that this is one of my favorite series. In fact, if it isn’t clear already, as part of my Blogo-Birthday Celebration I ONLY review stuff I really, really love. After all, this is my birthday and the blog’s birthday and why shouldn’t I treat myself to some books and authors that I know I’ll love?

Especially since this whole week is a hobbit’s birthday, meaning that I give presents instead of getting them. It just wouldn’t do to give away books I don’t utterly adore.

What I love about this series in general, and it’s certainly exemplified by this entry, boils down to two things. One is certainly the development of the characters. St. Cyr and his wife Hero have created a partnership of equals in a way that doesn’t often happen in historical romance. They have both come through dark places and dark things, and found each other in spite of people and circumstances that stood in their way.

They both carry a lot of baggage, and it is not a weight that either can carry FOR the other. Rather, carrying it together lightens the load. I also have to say that more than either Darcy or Bond, the character that St. Cyr most often reminds me of is Roarke from the In Death series. They share the same kind of darkness in their pasts, and they both work on expiating their demons in the same ways. They have also both formed strong partnerships with women who were initially on opposing sides from themselves.

The other thing that makes this series so strong is its setting. It is so much the opposite of what we think of the Regency as being. There was so much glitter at the top, and so much rot underneath. The murder in this story is a case in point. The powers-that-be have already decided who MUST be guilty, regardless of who is actually guilty. The attitudes reflected by our protagonists resonate with 21st century readers and yet feel part and parcel of their time and place.

Wrong is always wrong. Murder is always murder. No matter who the victim was, or what they, themselves might have done. That St. Cyr sees so much of himself in this particular victim adds to the poignancy of the whole story.

In the end, good triumphed, at least temporarily. Evil got its just desserts. And the powers that be blame St. Cyr for righting a wrong that many would have preferred to bury. A combination of things as they should be with the acknowledgement that many in power do not desire that outcome.

While I am eagerly awaiting St. Cyr’s next case, probably this time next year, I’m offering one lucky reader the chance to either begin this marvelous series or pick up wherever they might have left off. This is a series where you do need to at least start at the beginning. I read the first few, lost track of the series in the middle and have returned for the last several and have enjoyed every single one since I returned.

I hope that the winner of this giveaway will too.

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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: supplied by 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
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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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!

Review: Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. Harris

Review: Why Kill the Innocent by C.S. HarrisWhy Kill the Innocent (Sebastian St. Cyr, #13) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #13
Pages: 368
Published by Berkley on April 3, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the newest mystery from the national bestselling author of Where the Dead Lie, a brutal murder draws Sebastian St. Cyr into the web of the royal court, where intrigue abounds and betrayal awaits.

London, 1814. As a cruel winter holds the city in its icy grip, the bloody body of a beautiful young musician is found half-buried in a snowdrift. Jane Ambrose's ties to Princess Charlotte, the only child of the Prince Regent and heir presumptive to the throne, panic the palace, which moves quickly to shut down any investigation into the death of the talented pianist. But Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife Hero refuse to allow Jane's murderer to escape justice.

Untangling the secrets of Jane's world leads Sebastian into a maze of dangerous treachery where each player has his or her own unsavory agenda and no one can be trusted. As the Thames freezes over and the people of London pour onto the ice for a Frost Fair, Sebastian and Hero find their investigation circling back to the palace and building to a chilling crescendo of deceit and death . . .

My Review:

Every book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series of historical mysteries, from its very beginning in What Angels Fear, begins with a question word. The words that inform the investigation of any mystery. Who? What? When? Where? Why? And every book ends with an answer to that question. In the middle, there is a chilling mystery.

But none quite as chilling as the mystery in Why Kill the Innocent, which takes place during the deadly frozen winter of 1814, the last time in recorded history that the Thames River froze over – solid enough for a Frost Fair to be held in the middle of the river, out on the ice.

That winter there was a killing cold, but the cold is not what killed Jane Ambrose. It is up to St. Cyr, with the able assistance of his wife Hero, to discover the cause of that particular mystery.

As in all the books of this series, Sebastian St. Cyr finds himself, or rather feels compelled to insert himself, into a mystery that explores the dark underbelly of the glittering Regency. An underbelly that is very dark indeed, and usually rotten.

The story begins with Hero Devlin and midwife Alexi Sauvage discovering a frozen corpse in the streets of Clerkenwell, a down-at-heels district at the best of times. And these are far from the best of times.

They recognize the body, and they can all too easily determine the cause of death. And that’s where all the problems begin. Jane Ambrose was a talented composer and a gifted pianist, but as a woman, the only acceptable outlet for her talent was as a piano teacher. As one of her students was the Princess Charlotte, heir-presumptive to the throne of England, they are certain that the palace will want to hush the crime up as quickly as possible.

That there is a crime to investigate is all too clear. Jane Ambrose was found with the side of her head bashed in, but there was no blood in the surrounding snow. She did not die where she was found, and she did not stagger to the site after she was struck. Someone put her in the street, making her death at least manslaughter if not murder.

And the palace will not want anyone to talk about a murder of someone so close to the Princess, no matter how much her father the Regent hates and despises both his only child and her mother. There’s a tangled web here even before the body is discovered.

After that gruesome discovery, St. Cyr takes it upon himself, with help from Hero and their friends and associates, to discover everything he can about the last days of Jane Ambrose. And whether she died as the result of something in her own life, or because of secrets she was privy to as a member of the Princess’ inner circle.

And whether or not Hero’s father, the manipulative, powerful and secretive Lord Jarvis, might possibly lie at the center of this web.

Escape Rating A+:The St. Cyr series is deep, dark and marvelous. If you like your historical mysteries on the grim side, where the detective and the reader get to dive deeply into the nasty, smelly side of the glittering past, this series is like the finest dark chocolate, mostly bitter, just a tiny bit of sweet, and absolutely delicious.

Why Kill the Innocent, like the rest of the series, is set in the Regency, but it is definitely not the sparkling Regency of Georgette Heyer. St. Cyr is a troubled soul, suffering from PTSD as a result of the Napoleonic Wars. He feels compelled to search for justice as a way of paying back, not just for his privileges, but also as a way of dealing with a heaping helping of survivor’s guilt.

St. Cyr is a member of the aristocracy, which gives him entry into places that other detectives cannot go. Not just the gentleman’s clubs, but also the halls of power, including the households of the Princess of Wales and her daughter Princess Charlotte.

He is also in a position to say what other people fear to say, or are punished for. The Regent, the future George IV, is a profligate spendthrift who treats both his wife and his daughter abominably and leaves the actual governance of his kingdom to men like Lord Charles Jarvis, who flatter the Regent’s massive ego while they accumulate power by any means available, no matter how nefarious.

The series as a whole does not shy away from the darkness that lay beneath the glitter. Hero, in particular, is a social reformer, and a tireless investigator. She finds Jane Ambrose’s body because she was in Clerkenwell writing a story about the wives left behind in extreme poverty after their husbands had been “impressed” by the British Navy. (This same practice became one of the foundational causes of the War of 1812 between Great Britain and her recently independent and frequently obstreperous colonies in the Americas).

Throughout Why Kill the Innocent St. Cyr and Hero are fighting an uphill battle. There is no one who wants this death investigated. That they keep doggedly on compels the reader to follow them, as they piece together the victim’s last days. And find not one, but multiple cesspools still stinking. And while the stink may rise all the way to the top, the rot that they are there to uncover lies much closer to the bottom – and much nearer to home.

Although the mystery is, as always compelling, the success of this series relies on the strengths of its two main characters, St. Cyr and Hero. Their unlikely match has resulted in a partnership of equals, which is always marvelous to read. But it is their flaws that make them so fascinating to watch.

Why Kill the Innocent could be read on its own. The crime and the investigation of it are complete in this story. As St. Cyr and Hero follow the clues and we meet their friends and enemies, characters who have appeared before in the series are given just enough background to keep a new reader engaged in the story. But for those who have read more of this marvelous series, there is added depth to the characters and the story. If you want to get in on this series from its beginning, start with What Angels Fear.

I’ll be over here, waiting for next year’s installment, tentatively titled Who Slays the Wicked.

Review: When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris

Review: When Falcons Fall by C.S. HarrisWhen Falcons Fall (Sebastian St. Cyr, #11) by C.S. Harris
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #11
Pages: 368
Published by NAL on March 1st 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The much-anticipated new entrée in the Sebastian St. Cyr “simply elegant”* historical mystery series, from the national bestselling author of Who Buries the Dead and Why Kings Confess.
Ayleswick-on-Teme, 1813. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has come to this seemingly peaceful Shropshire village to honor a slain friend and on a quest to learn more about his own ancestry. But when the body of a lovely widow is found on the banks of the River Teme, a bottle of laudanum at her side, the village’s inexperienced new magistrate turns to St. Cyr for help.   Almost immediately, Sebastian realizes that Emma Chance did not, in truth, take her own life. Less easy to discern is exactly how she died, and why. For as Sebastian and Hero soon discover, Emma was hiding both her true identity and her real reasons for traveling to Ayleswick. Also troubling are the machinations of Lucien Bonaparte, the estranged brother of the megalomaniac French Emperor Napoleon. Held captive under the British government’s watchful eye, the younger Bonaparte is restless, ambitious, and treacherous.   Sebastian’s investigation takes on new urgency when he discovers that Emma was not the first, or even the second, beautiful young woman in the village to die under suspicious circumstances. Home to the eerie ruins of an ancient monastery, Ayleswick reveals itself to be a dark and dangerous place of secrets that have festered among the villagers for decades—and a violent past that may be connected to Sebastian’s own unsettling origins. And as he faces his most diabolical opponent ever, he is forced to consider what malevolence he’s willing to embrace in order to destroy a killer.
*Lisa Gardner

My Review:

I read the first five books in this series several years ago, and then lost track. They are excellent books, but I ran into the “so many books, so little time” problem, and for some reason this series fell by the wayside.

Having finished the latest book in the series, When Falcons Fall, I can see that this was a terrible mistake – the series is every bit as awesome as I remember.

Of course, that I enjoyed this one so much after a reading hiatus of five years or so says that you probably don’t need to have read the whole series to enjoy the latest entry. In my case, it makes me want to go back and pick up the ones that I missed.

This series is unusual is that it is a Regency series that is not a romance, although there is a very slow-burning romantic subplot in it after all. Instead, is it a historical mystery series, where the private detective is a dabbling aristocrat who is using his investigations as a productive but unorthodox way of dealing with PTSD after the Napoleonic Wars.

Sebastian St. Cyr is a haunted man. He is also a man clandestinely searching for his identity. At the beginning of the series, he believes that he is the third son and accidental heir of Earl of Herndon and that his mother is dead. As the series progresses, while the legal facts don’t change, Devlin discovers that the truth is otherwise. His mother is very much alive, and whoever his biological father may have been, it certainly wasn’t the Earl. Not that the Earl is planning to expose this fact – Devlin’s two older brothers are dead, and he is the only heir to the title left.

But that leaves Devlin searching for his real antecedents in secret. In When Falcons Fall, his quest has taken him to Aylesworth-on-Teme. The grandmother of one of his fellow soldiers lives there, and Devlin has a final present for her from her late son. Devlin also wants to discover what, if anything is known about his friend’s own father, for Viscount Devlin and his dead friend looked enough alike to be twins. Enough alike that Jamie took a bullet that was clearly aimed at Devlin.

As usual for Devlin, when he reaches Aylesworth his own concerns take a backseat to the investigation he gets dragged into, only to have them circle around and become part of the murder he can’t resist solving.

Emma Chance is dead. Found with an empty laudanum bottle in her hand, and no obvious wounds, the local constable pushes for a rush to judgment of suicide. But the local Squire is not convinced, and that’s where Devlin comes in.

Emma Chance was certainly murdered. She could not have walked to the site of her death without getting mud on her extremely clean boots up to her ankles. Someone obviously staged her death scene. At first, the question is, who? But as Devlin looks into the death of Emma Chance, he discovers that he does not know whose death he is investigating.

Whoever the young widow who expertly sketched people and places in Aylesworth might have been, she certainly wasn’t the widow Emma Chance, because Emma Chance doesn’t exist.

Emma Chandler is dead. She came to Aylesworth to investigate her own identity. A search that parallels Devlin’s. After discovering the identity of her mother, Emma is in Aylesworth searching for the identity of her mother’s rapist among the local gentry.

As Devlin follows Emma’s trail, he can’t help but think that her search upset the local aristocracy. His search discovers a pattern of young women who were believed to have committed suicide, just as Emma was originally suspected of doing, on extremely flimsy evidence, combined with the local desire to sweep the horrible events under a rug, just as they have other, much worse crimes.

And also other much better ones. Aylesworth is just close enough to the coast to be useful for smuggling, and it’s a thriving trade while France is blockaded and French goods are embargoed. It’s entirely possible that poor Emma was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got in the way of the local “free traders”.

Or she ran afoul of the local spy community. Or rather, the not-so-local spy community. Lucian Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, is in residence in the neighborhood. And as Napoleon is fading in power, it is almost certain that he is looking for some rapprochement with his estranged brother. There are French spies in the area, passing messages between the Corsican brothers. And there are English spies in the woods, spying on the French spies. It is all too plausible that someone did not want to be seen in the middle of either treason or espionage.

But neither of these new possibilities explain the earlier deaths of young women. It seems highly unlikely that there are two murderers roaming in this small village. And yet, whatever is not impossible, must be the truth.

Can Devlin find that truth before it is too late?

Escape Rating A+: After a five-year reading hiatus on my part, as soon as I turned the first page I was right back in the thick of this series, and it took hours after I turned the last page to come out of the resulting book hangover.

The overarching story of the series is Devlin’s search for identity. He solves murders to fight his demons, but he is always looking for clues to who he really is and where he comes from. That gaping void in his center, where his certainty used to be and no longer is, drives him, and it drives him hard. Every time he tracks down one clue, two more spring up in its wake.

And he must always remember to keep up the charade at all costs. Whoever he knows himself to be, he must retain his identity as Viscount Devlin. There is no other heir. And it’s not as if he is lying to his legal father, the Earl has known the secret all along, and has caused no end of damage in his attempts to manipulate Devlin by withholding that truth. To say that the family is dysfunctional, is an understatement. It is easy to sympathize with Devlin’s mother, who pretended to die in order to escape.

So Devlin sees himself in Emma. And the locals certainly see his friend Jamie in him. Everyone is all too aware that Devlin and the late and well-known local must be secretly related, and no one dares comment directly on the resemblance. Unfortunately for Devlin, Jamie’s true father is also unknown, and even Jamie’s twin sister only has hints of who might have fathered Devlin, Jamie and herself.

Emma’s death digs up local dirt going back decades. In this small community, the past is definitely not over. It is not even slightly past. Under every rock Emma, and Devlin, uncover a new/old snake. One of the neat things in this story is the way that the past is tied into historic events that are still having legal and economic repercussions decades later. Devlin’s wife, Hero, is researching the effect of the Enclosure Act on small rural communities, expecting to find a lot of dirt, even to the point of old murders. She doesn’t expect to find new murders. Or nearly be murdered herself.

Hero St. Cyr is every bit as fascinating a character as her husband. At the very beginning of the series, Hero and Devlin are enemies. Her father is trying to either murder Devlin or get him convicted of something. As the series continues, Hero and Devlin begin to find themselves on the same side in some of his cases, however reluctantly. Their shift from enemies to frenemies to allies to marriage to love is slow and moves fitfully. With Hero’s unusual education and extreme independent-mindedness, she is the perfect partner for Devlin. That it takes both of them a long time and a lot of crises to realize that makes their marriage and partnership that much sweeter to watch.

what angels fear by cs harrisAnd it is Hero’s research that provides so much of the interest and so many of the clues in this puzzling case. If you like historical mysteries with unusual heroes and heroines, you’ll be absorbed by this series. Start your dark journey to the Regency with What Angels Fear.