Note: There are necessarily spoilers for previous books in this series.
This is the tenth book in the historical crime fiction series set in Regency England, this one in March of 1813, 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 had an entrée into the upper level of society that would have been denied to the regular police. He agrees because the thought of anybody stealing away someone else’s a life is an abomination to him, especially after the traumatic instances of unjust murder he witnessed in the army, and for which he still feels guilt, even though he could not have prevented any of it.
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 young 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.”
As this book begins, almost two months have elapsed since the previous book. Devlin and Hero’s new young son, Simon St. Cyr, is seven weeks old, giving one more reason for Devlin to worry about the safety of his loved ones, especially since he becomes involved in another murder.
In this case, Stanley Preston, the irascible cousin of the Home Secretary, has been found not only murdered, but with his severed head up on a pike on the small bridge where his body was found. Devlin’s friend Sir Henry Lovejoy, one of the Bow Street magistrates, has called on Devlin for his help.
Ironically, that the same year, the burial vault of King Charles I had been discovered. The king was beheaded almost 200 years before. The vault also contained the coffins of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, and was located quite near to the location where Preston met his grisly death. It happened that Preston was a collector of “curiosities” including severed heads. Was there a correspondence?
Complicating matters was the fact that any number of people had recently quarreled with Preston, including Henry Austen, a banker who was the real life brother of Jane Austen, both of whom also play a part in the story. [The author consulted Jane Austen’s letters and biographies for her portrayal of the Austen family, and also adds humorous references in her book to some of Austen’s characters. (For example, Hero names their cat Mr. Darcy.) At this time, Jane Austen’s books were the talk of the “ton” although the books had been published anonymously. Sense and Sensibility first appeared in 1811 under the pseudonym “A Lady”, and Pride and Prejudice was published early in 1812. Austen’s authorship of the books did not remain a secret for long, and in this book, Devlin is one of those who discovers it early on, in the course of his investigation.]
Devlin keeps getting shot at however, and he isn’t sure how it is related to the death of Preston, and the others who turn up dead.
Hero has been putting herself in the way of danger as well; she is working on a series of articles about London’s working poor, a project which takes her into less than salubrious areas. Moreover, those who threaten Devlin seem to be targeting his wife and child as well. Naturally Hero’s ruthless father-in-law, the powerful Lord Jarvis, promises to kill Devlin if any harm should befall Hero or Simon.
Other continuing plot threads include the worsening opium addiction of Devlin’s friend, the surgeon Paul Gibson, and Devlin’s deepening feelings for Hero:
“He loved her with a tenderness and a passion that humbled, awed, and frightened him; he was closer to her than he had ever been to anyone.”
Devlin does end up losing someone with whom he feels an inexorable bond, and this tragedy will inevitably affect what he does in the next book.
Evaluation: I’ve become quite invested in these characters by this tenth book, and can’t wait to see what happens to them next. I also love the historical aspects of the books; I learn more about the Regency Era with each one.
Published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group, 2015