Author: C.S. Harris
Provided Synopsis: 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.
Review: With a newborn son at home, the consequences should Sebastian encroach upon too many dangerous toes is higher than ever. But will that stop this viscount from pursuing justice for those murdered in London? Never.
The newest installment of this Victorian mystery series brings a case in which a collector of curiosities is found murdered by means that include decapitation. Stanley Preston’s connections include relation to the current Home Secretary, yet the movement of the man during his final days is the most important. Preston could be cantankerous, enough so that he had argued in public with many — therefore the list of suspects is high, and even includes the brother of the novelist recently taking society by storm: Jane Austen.
Do not let the name drop fool you, however. Jane Austen does not play a prominent role in this story. She exists as a friend of the murdered man’s daughter, and there are illusions given to the names of characters in her works — that is all, and I confess to being disappointed in her minimal appearance. Instead, the majority of the story focuses upon slave plantations in Jamaica due to how it connects many of the characters and the motives behind actions. From my perspective, this was not the most engaging of Sebastian’s mysteries; the guilty party was easily determined and I could not take much interest in the connecting dots.
Thankfully, Sebastian’s personal life also played a large part in this installment. While there is his newfound role as a father, there is also the confrontation he must face with the man who placed him in an awful position during his time in the army. There is also further development in the mystery of the connection between Sebastian and Jamie Knox. The end of this book causes me to be hopeful that he and the readers will get some answers; there is even the prospect the next book will take our characters out of London for the time being to learn these answers and perhaps solve a mystery in another setting.
As always, this book could be read as a stand-alone; although I do recommend you give the entirety of the series a good look. Sebastian is a great character, and while Hero and Gibson were not given as much of a role as I would have liked this time around, there are still more compelling arcs for the trio on the horizon.