Review of “When Blood Lies” by C. S. Harris 

Note: There are necessarily spoilers for previous books in this series.

Although this is the 17th book in this series, C.S. Harris does an outstanding job of providing enough background in every book – without making it seem tedious or out of place – so that any of the books could be read as standalones.

The Sebastian St. Cyr historical crime fiction series began with the first book set in 1811, the year that George, Prince of Wales (known by the public as “Prinny”) began his nine-year tenure as Regent of the British Monarchy. (A prince regent is a prince who rules in the place of a monarch who is still the titular king but has been deemed unfit for any reason, such as age, or physical or mental incapacity. In this case, the Prince of Wales was standing in for his father George III, thought to be mad. On the death of his father in 1820, the Prince Regent became George IV.)

The Regency Era is a popular setting for fiction. For one thing, these were very interesting times historically. Most of Europe was at war, for and against Napoleon, depending on the year. Social mores were in an uproar as well: the rights of both women and slaves were being debated everywhere. And the conflict between the classes, especially in England, proved to be rich fodder for romantic plots. [You may also wish to consult my post on “An Introduction to the Regency Era.”]

In this installment, it is now the spring of 1815, and Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is in his early 30s, has been married for three years to Hero, and has a two-year-old son Simon. Devlin is heir to the powerful Earl of Hendon, but is not actually Hendon’s son. His mother Sophie had an affair, and left her husband and children when Devlin was 11. His father told them the lie that Sophie was lost at sea. When Devlin finally learned the truth, he was determined to find her and also discover who his real father was.

As this story begins, Devlin and his family have come to Paris where his mother, calling herself Sophia Cappello, was said to be living. He does indeed find her – she is dying, having been stabbed and thrown over a bridge at the tip of the Île de la Cité. She lived just long enough to whisper to him her recognition by uttering “Sebastian.”

Devlin finds out that Sophia had been living with her lover of many years, General Alexandre McClellan, one of Napoleon’s generals. Devlin bears a remarkable resemblance to the picture of McClellan in Sophie’s house. But he sets that insight aside for the nonce; his priority is finding out who killed Sophie and why.

His investigatory efforts are set in the chaotic world of a changing France, where a Bourbon king, Louis XVIII, is in power and Napoleon has been exiled to Elba. Ominously, Devlin learns Sophie had recently traveled to Elba. Could that have had something to do with her murder?

The political quagmire through which Devlin has to wade is complex and dangerous. As Devlin reflected:

“…the people of this land had risen up against the grinding inequality and injustice of their age, only to lose their way in a morass of hatred, bloodshed, and terror . . . . the reimposition of the oppressive rule of the Bourbons made a brighter, more just future seem somehow less likely than ever….”

The author, who has a PhD in nineteenth-century European history, guides us through the machinations of the powerful (and those aspiring to be powerful) so that readers learn a great deal of history while Devlin is trying to solve the crime. I especially loved the ongoing account, parallel to Sebastian’s story, of Napoleon’s progress through France after returning from Elba; it had its own elements of suspense and excitement.

Evaluation: I love the recurring characters in this series and their evolving interactions. In addition, one always learns a great deal of well-researched history about this fascinating and horrifying period, with a number of crimes thrown in to add tension and interest. This series is entertaining, educational, and well worth delving into.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2022

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