books

C.S. Harris

Books

Sebastian St. Cyr: What Angels Fear (2005), When Gods Die (2006), Why Mermaids Sing (2007), Where Serpents Sleep (2008), What Remains of Heaven (2009), Where Shadows Dance (2011), When Maidens Mourn (2012), What Darkness Brings (2013), Why Kings Confess (2014), Who Buries the Dead (2015), When Falcons Fall (2016), Where the Dead Lie (2017), Why Kill the Innocent (2018)

See also C.S. Graham

My reviews for C.S. Harris

 

Sebastian St. Cyr

 

What Angels Fear (2005)

Set in London in 1811.

Sebastian St. Cyr is a young nobleman who returned from the wars with France wanting only to forget, but unable to do so, and thus unable to fit back into society. His refusal to wed and produce and heir only makes his already poor relationship with his father even worse.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story and very much liked Sebastian St Cyr. Despite all he has seen, and his wish to be cynical, he is still deeply connected to the world around him, and is offended by injustice--and not just the injustice of his own situation. But mostly I found him a very likable character. I also liked his she created a background for him that made him a good investigator. Serving in the military gave him one set of skills, but working in intelligence gave him yet another set of skills, both of which served him well as he attempts to clear his name.

Her attention to detail was also something that I particularly liked, and it always makes me feel a little better when the author of a period book is an historian. Not that the rest of us can't get details right, but I think there is something about loving history so much you're willing to get a degree in it that imparts itself when an historian writes a story set in the past. C.S. Harris filled the story with lots of little details mentioned almost in passing that made the period come to life, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The writing was also very good. The pacing of the story was fast, and I had to force myself put the book down at night, or else I would have stayed up all night finishing it.

The dialog was also well done and enjoyable.

"Those rumors I mentioned?" Christopher said in an undertone as he and Sebastian moved forward. "They say the last time Talbot fought a duel, he chose twenty-five paces, then turned and fired after twelve. Killed the man. Of course, Talbot and his second swore the distance had been settled at twelve paces all along."

"And his rival's second?"

"Shut up about it when Talbot threatened to call him out--for naming Talbot a liar."

Sebastian gave his friend a slow smile. "Then if Talbot should have occasion to call you out for a similar reason, I suggest you choose swords."

I did, however, have a couple of caveats about this book. I am not sure if I am going to recommend it to my grandmother, because it does have a bit of boinking, and the descriptions of the murder of Rachel York are quite brutal. The murder itself is not described, but the is a good deal of detail about the body and the blood etc. So if you are squeamish, you might be bothered by portions of this book.

All in all, I very much enjoyed this book, and am looking forward to the next book--which is sitting in my Amazon shopping cart as I type. If you like historical mysteries and thrillers, then you should definitely pick up What Angels Fear.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Obsidian  

Re-Read: March 2014
Rating: 8.5/10

When Gods Die (2006)

Last year I picked up What Angels Fear on because I thought it looked mildly interesting. I was pleasantly surprised to find an intriguing and fascinating Regency thriller. I then placed the the second book in the series When Gods Die on preorder, which means I’ve been waiting since March for this book to come out in paperback. Was it worth the wait? Yes.

It has been several months since Sebastian St. Cyr cleared himself of murder charges. While he and his father are attending a party thrown by the Prince Regent, a young woman is found murdered–a jeweled knife hilt sticking out of her back, while the prince–who discovered her body–is suspected by the populace of killing her, although anyone who knows the prince figures him incapable of such an act. Lord Jarvis commands Sebastian’s presence and asks him to search for the killer. Sebastian declines, until he is shown the necklace found around the woman’s neck–a necklace that disappeared with Sebastian’s mother when she was lost at sea years ago.

As with the previous book, the characters are my favorite part of the book. Sebastian is a complex character, whose many quirks and eccentricities are credited to his time in the war. His past also gives him a good reason for his skills–a set that would be highly unusual for a Lord at that time. Kit is also fascinating, and in this book we learn more of why she continues to refuse to marry Sebastian. We also see Sebastian’s relationship with his father grow more complex, as the death of his mother appears to figure in this mystery.

The mystery itself is full of political intrigue: if the Prince didn’t kill the young woman, why was she killed, and why was the body moved so as to place suspicion upon the prince? We also–in the background–see the continued development of the Bow Street Runners. Not that they play a major role in the story, but they are in the background, and unlike other stories I’ve read from the point of view of the Runners, you can see in this tale, the disdain that the wealthy and empowered feel for the Runners. It’s an intersting point of view switch from other Regency mysteries I’ve read.

If you enjoy mysteries set in the past, then I recommend When Gods Die. You should be able to read and enjoy the story without having read What Angels Fear, but of course I always think it’s best, if possible, to read stories in order. So you’ll have to make up your mind whether you want to start her, or at the beginning of the series.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Signet  

Re-Read: March 2014
Rating: 8/10

Why Mermaids Sing (2007)

Set in London in September 1811

I really like Sebastian St. Cyr Viscount Devlin, and look forward to new books in the series as they come out. Unfortunately for me, others seem to like him as well, and Why Mermaids Sing came out in hardback. I really do not like reading hardback books (I’ve got books I really want to read, but don’t because I have them in hardback), so I waited for it to come out in paperback–and then missed it by two months. ARGH!

However, once I saw the book was out I rectified my mistake and began reading almost as soon as the book arrived. And then had a hard time putting the book back down, despite my need for sleep and food.

Sebastian is called to the scene of a grisly murder by Sir Henry Lovejoy, who is hoping that Sebastian can help him stop what looks to be a series of murders. Although Sebastian doesn’t see why he should bother himself, he ends up drawn into the mystery, and threats against his life of increase his resolve to discover the killer.

Meanwhile, Kat–Sebastian’s love–has gotten herself into trouble and is afraid to tell Sebastian what is happening for fear of losing his love because of her past. Events soon spiral out of control for Kat as she fears her past, her secrets, and her occupation will destroy Devlin.

As I said previously, this story drew me in immediately and I had a hard time putting it down. What I particularly like about Why Mermaids Sing is that everything is logical–the story is not stretched or far fetched regarding the characters and their motives. Everything makes sense, even as you’re shocked and disgusted by the events.

Sebastian’s continuing involvement in crimes still upset his family, but in Society, many things will be forgiven if you are rich and of the right blood.

(His aunt) pushed to her feet with a grunt. “I fear it would take far more than an unnatural interest in murder to render you anything other than an enviable catch, my dear.”

Before everything comes tumbling down, there’s a passage between Kat and Sebastian I quite like.

“You know what I am, what I have been…

He pressed his fingers to her lips. “Don’t. Don’t say it.”

She stared up at him. “Why not? It’s the truth. Would you have me live a lie?”

“No. But I would have you live a life defined not by what you’ve been, but by what you are.”

“My past is a part of what I am.”

“A part. But only a part.”

Something strange about this story is that I can understand the anger–the horror–of the murderer, but I’m still horrified by the revenge he chooses to take.

The more I read of C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cry series, the more I like it and want more books–immediately if possible. The comparison that is starting to come to mind is the Kate Ross Julian Kestrel, which I absolutely loved.

There is some boinking, so I’m not sure if Grandmom will like this series or not, but I love it, and highly recommend it–and recommend starting at the beginning. Seeing how Sebastian got where he is makes the series strong, IMO.

Really, read this series.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Obsidian  

Re-Read: March 2014
Rating: 7/10

Where Serpents Sleep (2008)

Set in London in 1812

I really like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries. In fact, now that I’ve finished the latest, Where Serpents Sleep I’m depressed I’ll have to wait at least a year before the next book in the series comes out.

Sebastian has been leading a dissolute life following the events of the previous book, Why Mermaids Sing. He’s been trying to drown his misery in alcohol, trying to come to terms with his relationship with Kat Boleyn. And pretty much failing.

However, the death of eight women at the Magdaline house–deaths that were witnessed Hero Jarvis, daughter of Lord Jarvis, cousin of the Prince Regent and the true power behind the throne–draw Sebastian back into intrigue and murder.

Unlike previous stories, the narration is split between Hero and Sebastian, as they separately discover details about the murdered woman. The fact that Hero is strong-willed and cantankerous made the shift from Sebastian easier, because although I love spending time with him, it’s also interesting to see him from the perspective out an outsider.

The one thing I especially like about this series is that C.S. Harris does a good job of creating realistic characters who have reasons for acting as they do. Because they are upper class, neither Sebastian nor Hero would normally be involved in investigating a murder. But they searching because they are assisting the police, but because they want to know the truth, and because they value justice. That makes their eccentricities more reasonable.

I do so love the random glimpses into life in the early 1800s.

Sebastian hid a smile. “Brewing boot police, is he?”

Boot polish was serious business.

The air in the kitchen was redolent with the scent of hot beeswax and resin.

And then more bits of the process are dropped throughout the next several paragraphs. It’s odd to think that something you can pick up at the store for a couple dollars was something that was once made by hand–from secret recipes.

And of course the use of arsenic powder. “(T)here’s no denying it dos give one the whitest skin.” Yeah, women used arsenic powder to remain pale. (Makes tanning beds seem almost harmless in comparison.)

There’s also a good bit about the Quakers, and how they were viewed by English society at the time (not very well).

“We believe that true religion is a personal encounter with God rather than a matter of ritual and ceremony, and that all aspects of life are sacramental. Therefore, no one day or place or activity is any more spiritual than any other.

They were quite truly harmless, which is why the venom directed at them seems all the stranger.

And then there was a bit that would be familiar to many from Appalachia (and many other parts of the world).

Sebastian studied the man’s smooth face. He had a faint blue line, like a tattoo, that ran across his forehead. Sebastian had seen marks like that before, on miners. Coal dust settled into healing cuts, leaving a mark that never disappeared.

If you have have not yet read any books in this series, than I strongly recommend that you pick up What Angels Fear. Although you could read Where Serpents Sleep without having read the previous three books, if you’re like me you’ll want to read all the Sebastian St. Cyr books, and it’s always better to read a series in order.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Obsidian  

Re-Read: March 2014
Rating: 8/10

What Remains of Heaven (2009)

Set in London in 1812

The Archbishop of Canterbury enlists the help of Sebastian St Cyr’s aunt to ask Sebastian to look into the death of the bishop of London, who’s body was found in an abandoned crypt. In the meantime, he is attempting to determine just how Hero Jarvis is doing, after their encounter months earlier, when they both became involved in a murder–a murder that almost cost them both their lives.

If I tell you that I purchased this book in hardback, that may give you and inkling of how much I like this series–and Sebastian St Cyr Viscount of Devlin.

I love historical mysteries–they don’t have to be set in London or England, but this series is, in the early 1800s. Although Sebastian is a Viscount–someone who would not normally be involved in something as sordid as a murder, as a younger son who joined the military and worked in the intelligence services gave him the skills to investigate murders in London–as well as a world view quite different from those of his peers.

Additionally, the reactions of his various family members–especially his sister–do reflect the values of the time, and the feelings of the upper class towards anything as tawdry as “work.”

Because much of the mystery is set in the past, Sebastian makes many unpleasant discoveries, and it is these discoveries that make the story such a page turner.

If you like historical mysteries, then I highly recommend the Sebastian St Cyr mysteries. Although you should be able to begin here in the series, as usual, I believe you’ll be well-rewarded by starting at the beginning of the series and moving forward.
Rating: 9/10

Re-Read: March 2014
Rating: 8/10 

Where Shadows Dance (2011)

Set in London in July 1812

There are several authors whose books I pre-order as soon as I see them available. A far smaller set are authors whose books I will pre-order in hardback. C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cry series falls into that very select category.

Interestingly, I quite enjoyed this book despite the fact that the mystery was quite secondary–this usually annoys me. However, this book focused on the relationship (and pending marriage) between Sebastian and Hero Jarvis.

Although she started as an almost secondary character in the first book, she developed through the series into an extremely complex and independent character. Marrying the two in a way that would make both happy was–to say the least–a complex negotiation, and thus the murder mystery took second place to the mystery of how these two characters could marry and not hate one another (and make the readers hate one of the two too boot).

And to be honest, I think the cover does a good job of making it clear that this book was going to be as much about Hero as about discovering a murderer.

So what murder makes its appearance?

As an anatomist, Paul Gibson buys corpses from London’s body snatchers. When he received the body of a young man who died of a weak heart, he quickly discovers the man was instead murdered. However, as the body is supposed to be buried and resting peacefully, investigating a this murder is going to be more complex than normal.

I actually thought the idea of how the murder was discovered was fascinating. How many anatomists of that time discovered murders but let the murderer go free because there was no way to bring the crime to light without placing themselves in jeopardy for their own crimes?

In a way, I wish this plot had not had to take second place to getting Hero & Sebastian to the alter, because it is something that had to have been quite common at that time.

If you have been reading this series, you will not want to miss Where Shadows Dance. If you have not read any books in this series, this is not the place to start.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Obsidian

When Maidens Mourn (2012)

Set in London in August 1812

I’ve been pretty forthright about how rarely I buy hardback books. But C.S. Harris is on the extremely short list of authors I’ll buy and read in hardback.

So why, you may ask, if his book came out over a month ago–and I’ve had it in my hands for that long–did it take me so long to read it?

Because this was one of the series Grandmom liked, and in reading it myself, I’m reminded that I won’t be sharing this book–or any other–with her again.

That said, once I did pick up the book, I didn’t set it back down until I finished it.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount of Devlin has been married now for only a few days. He and Hero must learn to trust one another, else their marriage fail before it has even begun. But just as they are taking the first tentative steps towards getting to know each other, one of Hero’s friends is found murdered–and Hero has reason to fear her father might be involved.

But because it is Hero’s friend who has been killed, Sebastian agrees to the request of Sir Henry Lovejoy to help discover the murderer. Unfortunately, because he and Hero don’t yet fully trust one another, they may be working at cross purposes. And they are definitely not willing to share all the information they learn–Sebastian for fear his information will hurt Hero, and Hero because her information may implicate her father.

A lot of the reviews on Amazon don’t seem to care much for this book in comparison to past stories. I have to say I was rather pleased in how things she worked things out. Sebastian was not going to be allowed to remain unmarried, and as lovely as Kat might be, she’d make a terrible wife for Sebastian, on many levels. But assuming they can work out their differences (ie, Lord Jarvis) Sebastian and Hero could be very good for one another.

I will admit that in this book the mystery took second place to Hero and Sebastian working out their differences, and in fact was simply a vehicle for them to do so.

But I’m OK with that. I like both characters very much, and enjoyed spending time with them in this book, even if the mystery took second place.

Though I am hoping the next book returns to a stronger mystery.
Rating: 8/10

Published by NAL

What Darkness Brings (2013)

Set in London in September 1812

The 8th book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series finds Sebastian Lord Devlin and Hero (now Lady Devlin) setting into married life. They are still keeping secrets from each other–Sebastian his past, and Hero, her father’s secrets, but they are also clearly in love with each other, and working out their past and their differences.

What makes it easier is that both are admirable people–Sebastian for his sense of justice and unwillingness to allow an innocent man to be hung, and Hero for her interest in London’s poor.

One thread that worked its way through the story was Hero’s interviews of London street sweepers–young children who hang out on the streets waiting for the well-to-do to come by, so they can sweep the muck of the city off the streets off their path. I’d actually read about these young street sweepers in another series, and they’re both fascinating and depressing. Fascinating because they highlight one of the things people don’t consider about London and other cities of the time–the sheer volume of filth in the city. Depressing, of course, because these are very young children–often orphans–who spend their days on the streets.

There are other passing asides that remind us that life was often short for the men and women of the time.

“Tell me what you need me to do,” he said, “and I’ll do it.”

He felt her hands tremble in his. “Sit and talk to me, will you? Most of my acquaintances seem to assume that I’ve either dosed myself senseless with laudanum, or that since this is third experience with widowhood then I must be taking it comfortably in stride. I can’t decide which is more insulting.”

I’ve come to think that in some ways, our current mixed and blended families have more in common with the families of the past than the families of The Greatest Generation, except of course that these mixes are due to divorce (which was nearly unheard of at the time) rather than death, which was so very common then.

I also enjoyed the bits of history, in this case, Walcheren fever, a combination of diseases that all but destroyed the British forces.

The mystery (the greater and more important part of the story) is the arrest of Russell Yates–Kat’s husband–for the murder of a man who often acted as a middle-man for the sale of jewels between the wealthy and the less so (especially the less-wealthy who didn’t want it known their finances were in disarray).

It also involves what would come to be known as the Hope Diamond. Oddly, I’ve seen the Hope diamond at the Smithsonian (someone else was interested, not me) and I’d missed the connection between the diamond and the French monarchy.

I particularly liked seeing Sebastian and Hero working together–it was lovely to see their developing partnership and its positive effect upon their marriage.

“The Member of Parliament from South Whitecliff tells me that my wife shot three men at Charring Cross this morning. But the baker’s boy swears it was only one.”

All in all, this is another lovely entry into the series, and I eagerly await the next installment.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Obsidian  

Why Kings Confess (2014)

why-kings-confessSet in London in January 1813

I gave up re-reading the past books and the series and jumped straight to the newest book. No more hardback books for me, I think.

The last several books have been set in a relatively compressed time frame–within a nine month period, to be precise, and in this book Hero finally goes into labor with Sebastian’s baby.

Having re-read the books, it’s somewhat amazing how Sebastian and St. Cyr went from, well, not precisely enemies, but certainly a very strong dislike of one another, to a married couple with Hero being the best thing that could have happened to Sebastian.

But, it’s not all romancey stuff, there is also a murder.

Paul Gibson, walking off a desire for Laudanum, discovers a woman lying in an alley, bleeding from a head wound, and a murdered man whose chest has been hacked open.

The body belongs to a young doctor who had been acting as the private physician to a French exile–and exile who was seen in the company of Lord Jarvis. When the reason for the young man’s death is given as a robbery gone wrong, both Gibson and Sebastian are suspicious. But the woman claims not to remember the attack, or to know why the doctor she was with might have been murdered.

It’s good to see Sebastian finally over Kat, who, while a good person, was not good for Sebastian. And it was also good to see Hero retain her independence and spirit, despite Sebastian’s fear the child would kill her.

It was also interesting to see Gibson’s issue with opium finally brought to Sebastian’s attention. But Sebastian was correct–Gibson’s pain from his phantom limb was true pain, and there were no treatments for such a problem at the time.

There is also a fascinating look at the Bourbon royalty in exile, especially Marie-Thérèse, who–with good reason–was one very messed up individual.

“I have it on excellent authority that Marie -Thérèse will never condescend to speak to me again, ever since I committed the unforgivable sin of daring to contradict her royal personage. It’s one of the many hazards of believing in the divine right of kings; you start equating yourself with God, which means you see your enemies as not merely annoying or unpleasant, but the literal servants of Satan.”

But don’t think that she was a weak woman, despite everything that had happened to her.

“I have heard Napoléon himself say that Marie-Thérèse is the only real man in her family.”

It’s also fascinating that–like Anastasia Romanov and even Elvis–reports of the Dauphin’s survival despite his death in prison were widespread. Rumor has always been willing to deny death.

Also fascinating was the look at pregnancy during the Regency.

“My lady, I beg of you; you must trust me in this.” He brought up his hands, palms together, as if he were praying. “Your color is too robust, and you have far too much energy. At this point, patients who follow my strictures are pale and languid, as befits a woman about to give birth. I shall have to bleed you again.”

It’s astounding what doctors (officially accoucheurs) believed was good and healthy for a pregnant woman: No protein, minimal food, no exercise, and frequent blood-letting. It’s a wonder any of the rich survived pregnancy.

Once again, I am reminded how much I love living in the future.

How was it as a mystery? It was interesting, if a bit convoluted, but my love of this series has always been the characters, so keep that in mind.
Rating: 8/10

Published by NAL

Who Buries the Dead (2015)

Who-Buries-the-DeadSet in London in 1813

“In my experience, people who view others as social or financial assets rarely do accumulate close friends.”

A body is discovered at Bloody Bridge–its head sitting on the brick wall, the body lying nearby in the grass. At first, there seems to be no reason for the man to have been brutally murdered. But the more Sebastian looks into the case, the more complex things become.

I am so delighted that Sebastian and Hero seem to have made their marriage work. Their son is a few months old, and they seem to care about each other (something quite unusual at a time when most marriages of the rich and landed were for political or social success (men wanting fortunes to restore their family lands, and young women wanting to marry into the peerage).

There are several important threads running through the story. First is the murder, and why the man might have been killed. The second is Hero and Sebastian’s marriage, and how they feel about each other. Third is the return to London of Oliphant, then Colonel who tried to have Sebastian killed, and whose actions were behind many of Sebastian’s nightmares. But also running through the story are the inequalities of the time, through Hero’s interviews with the working poor, but also looking at slavery.

A succession of court cases had reinforced the popular belief that the air of England was “too pure for a slave to breathe.”

But what was true of the air of England was not true of the air in England’s colonies. Even those who supported the freeing of England’s ten to fifteen thousand slaves often grew fainthearted at the thought of the financial havoc that would result from the emancipation of those who toiled to produce the sugar, tobacco, cotton, indigo, and rice that made England wealthy and powerful.

Oh, and we also have an appearance by Jane Austen.

I remain disappointed with the recent covers in this series.

It’s not that this is a bad cover, because it isn’t. It’s just that the model is REALLY not Sebastian. All the other elements are lovely, but that model is just completely wrong for Sebastian, and it irks me every time I see him.

I much preferred the earlier covers, especially the first cover, with the red rose petals scattered like drops of blood.

But aside from that, this was another good entry in the series–I’m still not tired of reading about Sebastian, and after ten years, that’s not a bad thing at all.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by NAL

When Falcons Fall (2016)

Ayleswick-on-Teme, Shropshire in August 1813

I really do love this series.

Sebastian and Hero have traveled to Shropshire to see if Sebastian and learn anything of the man who sired him–the man who gave him his yellow eyes and strange skills–because the man he believed to be his half-brother hailed from there.

Unfortunately, while they are there, a woman is found dead, and the young squire believes her death was not suicide, as it appears, but murder.

It’s interesting, how small English towns have so much in common with small rural towns.

“Happens he’s steward out at Northcott Abbey. Some sort of cousin to her ladyship. From Yorkshire,” he added in the faintly disparaging tone typically used by villagers when referring to “outsiders.”

“How long has he been in Ayleswick?”

The landlord picked up his quill and inspected the tip. “Twenty, maybe twenty-five years, I suppose.”

One thing I particularly like is how the romance between Sebastian and Hero has settled out. Despite everything, they are quite good for each other.

He worried sometimes that marriage to him was distracting Hero from the life she’d once intended to have.

But Hero does still have her own life and interests.

“My predecessor had been here forty years. The old Squire’d brought him in. Gave him— and me— this cottage rent free.”

Hero had been thinking of Archie Rawlins’s father as a drunken boor who foolishly set his horse at a wall he couldn’t clear. Now she found she had to readjust that image. It wasn’t unknown for landlords to take an interest in educating the children of their tenants and cottagers, but it was uncommon. Most saw the education of the masses either as unnecessary or as a misguided, dangerous folly.

In the story she is currently looking into enclosures, which is an interesting historical topic about which I knew little, but would have been incredibly important at the time.

“Perhaps I’m simply getting old. I liked England the way it was when I was a lad. But we’ll never see those days again, will we? And it isn’t only the look of the land that’s changed, I’m afraid; the people have changed too. Time was, Englishmen were part of a community; they had a stake in the land they worked. But not anymore. The enclosures have changed our entire sense of who and what we are.”

The good ol’ days….

This was a really complicated mystery, but it was very good.

There were, as always, many passages that caught my attention, but I especially liked this one in particular, as it is something I do.

“‘I’m not looking for anyone in particular. I simply enjoy reading old tombstones. I like to imagine the lives of the people whose names are engraved there, and think about the love they must have had for each other— husbands for wives, mothers and fathers for children.’”

This is another good addition to the series, and I begin to wonder if Sebastian will ever learn who his father was.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by NAL

Where the Dead Lie (2017)

Set in London in September 1813.

In case you’ve lost track, this is book 12 in the Sebastian St Cry series.

Sebastian is becoming used to fatherhood, and although his sister still hates him, Sebastian’s father has been reaching out to Sebastian, to try perhaps to repair their relationship. And the fact that Hero is letting him spend time with his grandson doesn’t hurt.

The mystery here is far more along the lines of Hero’s interests: an ex-solder stumbles upon two men attempting to bury the body of a murdered boy. Both men get away, and because it was only a street child, the magistrate closes the case as soon as it’s brought in. However, the local constable doesn’t like it, and the story ends up piquing Sebastian’s curiosity.

He insists that Benji Thatcher’s injuries were most likely sustained in whatever accidental fall killed him.”

Sebastian rested his shoulders against his bench’s high, old-fashioned back. “And the ligature marks around his neck?”

“Sir Arthur doesn’t seem to recall those.”

Or perhaps making Sebastian angry is closer to the truth.

“She was sent to Botany Bay?”

Gowan took another big bite of his pie. “Aye. Scheduled to hang at first, she was. But the sentence was commuted to seven years’ transportation at the end of the sessions. She begged ’em to let her take the children with her— didn’t have no family hereabouts t’ leave ’em with. But the magistrates wouldn’t do it. Said Benji and Sybil was old enough to fend fer themselves.” The constable shook his head. “Sybil was five at the time. How was she supposed to fend fer herself?”

This is a very difficult story, in that it deals with the torture, rape, murder, and above all poverty of children–and the willful blindness of the society to the poor.

There are also some really terrible human beings who are allowed to roam free because they happen to be rich or noble or both.

It’s a good mystery, and a reflection of the times in which the story is set, but it is hard to read about so many evildoers going unpunished.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Berkley

Why Kill the Innocent (2018)

Why Kill the InnocentSet in London in 1814

Hero is researching the wives of men who were pressed into the royal navy, specifically, how those women are often left destitute when their husbands are kidnapped off the street.

After visiting one such woman, Hero literally stumbles over the body of a woman she knows–Princess Charlotte’s piano instructor. Because of her relationship to the princess, the death would have been reported as merely a mugging gone wrong, but Hero knows it was more than that, and so Sebastian helps her look into the death.

There are several difficult aspects to this book. The first is just how awful the prince regent is.

When one of the doctors ventured to suggest that a simple solution might be for the Prince to moderate his food and alcohol intake to avoid aggravating his gout, the Prince roared, “It wasn’t because of the port and buttered crab, you fool! I lay awake all night fretting about that Brunswick bitch. She is plotting against me again. I know it.”

The man all but locked his daughter away, both as punishment of her mother, and because the people appeared to like her more than him.

The second hard thing was the reminder of how limited the lives of women were–even when they weren’t poor.

She said it’s one thing to write an opera or symphony but something else entirely to find an orchestra willing to perform a piece composed by a woman.”

“Ah, yes, I can see that.”

“When her brother James was alive, he actually published some of her pieces as his own. She said he hated that she didn’t get credit for them, but he thought they deserved to be performed and he knew that was the only way it would happen.”

“Did (he) ever hit her?”

Maxwell nodded again, his nostrils pinched. “He gave her a black eye at least once that I know of. And several times he left a mark on her face, just here—” He touched his fingertips to his left cheekbone at exactly the same place where someone had struck Jane moments before she died.

“She told you he hit her?”

“No. She always came up with some tale to explain the marks— she’d even laugh at herself for being so clumsy. But she wasn’t clumsy. She wasn’t clumsy at all. I could never understand why she protected him the way she did.”

But the hardest part was the research Hero was doing into the wives of men pressed into the navy.

“It’s not right, what we do. Kidnapping men and carrying them off as essentially slaves to serve on our warships, all without a thought to the wives and children they leave behind to starve.”

That’s bad enough, but knowing that a young mother had been sentenced to hang for stealing food–and knowing there was nothing Hero could do about it–was utterly heart-rending.

There are also of course the normal threads going through the book–Sebastian’s relationship with his father, Hero’s relationship with her father (who keeps threatening to kill Sebastian), Gibson and Aleix; I think it’s getting harder to fit all those relationships into the story I think, but I’m glad she made the effort, because the glimpses are important reminders of the lives the characters have beyond the mystery.
Rating: 8.5/10

Publisher: Berkley