Note: There are necessarily spoilers for previous books in this series.
This is the sixth book in the historical crime fiction series set in Regency England, now in 1812, and featuring Sebastian St. Cyr, the twenty-nine year old Viscount Devlin. In the first book, he was suspected of a murder he did not commit, and had to become something of a Sherlock Holmes to find the real murderer to save his own skin.
In subsequent books, he was consulted on murders that involved the nobility, because he would have an entrée into the upper level of society that would be denied to the regular police.
Devlin is aided by the counsel of his friend, the surgeon Paul Gibson, who serves as a Watson to St. Cyr’s Holmes, as well as by Sir Henry Lovejoy, now a “Bow Street Runner” (detective) who has become a friend of Devlin’s. Devlin also has his 13-year-old horse handler Tom, a former street urchin, to do reconnaissance work for him.
You may also wish to consult my post on “An Introduction to the Regency Era.”
This book picks up shortly after the previous one. Devlin’s friend Paul Gibson, a surgeon who performs autopsies to enable him better to understand human anatomy, is working on a body of a young man, Alexander Ross, allegedly dead of a heart defect. Gibson discovers Ross was actually murdered by a stiletto in the back of the neck, and sends for Devlin. He knows Devlin shares “a dedication to the truth and a passionate anger at the wanton, selfish destruction of one human being by another.”
It turns out that Ross worked at the foreign office for Sir Hyde Foley, Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs. This office was involved in a maze of secret agreements and espionage related to the ongoing war against Napoleon. Complicating matters was a threat of war against the United States over the issues of, inter alia, dominion over Canada, and impressment of sailors from the British Navy by American ships. All of these machinations were top-secret, and it was difficult for Devlin to ascertain who might want to murder Ross and why. He was warned repeatedly: “It can be a dangerous game, diplomacy. A dance of shadows in the darkness.” More bodies start piling up.
In a rather humorous aside, Devlin can no longer successfully employ stealth to conduct his inquiries. It has become well-known in London that if Devin expresses interest in someone who recently died, all assume the person had been murdered and that Devlin has been called in to investigate.
In another humorous side theme, every time someone is found murdered, Hero asks her father if he did it, or had it done. She understands her father values order and stability over fairness and justice, and she also knows Devlin is the opposite. She feels loyalty to her father, but she is beginning to understand Devlin’s good qualities as well; that he “was a man for whom power and authority were never sacred, whose values were justice and reason, not expediency and privilege.”
Meanwhile, in his private life, Devlin just discovered a week earlier that the man he thought of as his father, the Earl of Hendon, was not actually his biological father. Hendon never told Devlin the truth, even when he knew Devlin gave up the love of his life, Kat Boleyn, after discovering Kat was the offspring of Hendon. Devlin cannot forgive him.
There are even more complications of his personal life. Two months earlier, he had a one-night-stand with Hero Jarvis, the daughter, of Charles, Lord Jarvis, the acknowledged power behind the Regency. Now Hero is pregnant, but she opted not to marry, in favor of a different plan. That plan fell through, however, and now Hero tells Devlin she will marry him, preferably as soon as possible.
This does not stop Hero from helping out with Devlin’s detective activities, however, and once again, both of them are in danger of their lives.
Evaluation: The characters are not only appealing in these books, but interesting, beyond their involvement in the crimes they investigate. I love the relationship between Hero and Devlin.
I also love the historical data the author includes in the background, and the fact that she always makes a point to focus on the social injustice common to the Era.
Published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group, 2011