Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris

Book Description:
In London, 1811, a young woman is brutally raped and murdered, her body left on the altar steps of an ancient church. The prime suspect: Sebastian St. Cyr, a brilliant young nobleman still haunted by his experiences in the Napoleonic Wars. Now he is running for his life, desperate to catch the killer and prove his innocence. Moving from Mayfair's glittering ballrooms to St. Giles's fetid back alleys, Sebastian is assisted by a band of unlikely allies and pursued by a Machiavellian powerbroker with ties to the Prince Regent himself.  What Angels Fear seamlessly weaves an intimate knowledge of the period with a multi-layered and compelling story, and is the first of a series of novels featuring these characters.

What a great historical mystery, the first of the Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries.  The plot and research appeared to be very well thought out and I found it hard to put down.  The mystery had me constantly guessing about who the real killer was and at one point I did actually guess correctly, but threw the idea out and thought it was someone else!  What Angels Fear gives the reader an up close and personal view of London's dark underbelly during Regency times.  There are some stomach turning scenes due to the murder, but it was a first rate mystery.  Even though I was repelled by some of the things that occur or are casually discussed as commonplace practices, I couldn't stop reading.  I liked Sebastian and will definitely read more of this series.

Sebastian St. Cyr is on the run.  A respected aristocrat, slightly injured and home from the wars he finds himself snap dab in the middle of a murder mystery - and he's the prime suspect!  A young and beautiful actress is found brutally murdered on the steps of a church in London.  Before her murder she told people she was going to meet "St. Cyr."  A gun with his insignia is found with the body - yet he was nowhere near the place.  He has an alibi but cannot tell anyone where he really was because of a certain married woman's reputation.  It's complicated but he'd rather face criminal charges for murder than admit who he was with at the time of the murder.  In some ways this book read a bit like "The Fugitive" only during Regency times.

To avoid arrest, Sebastian goes "underground" deep into the murky depths of London's seamy side and tries to solve the murder mystery himself.  Hiding out anonymously in the East End, he acquires the allegiance of a young pickpocket eager to help him clear his name.  The story unfolds: secrets, hidden scandals and treasonous schemes are revealed - in addition to the murder.  As Sebastian gets closer to finding out who the real killer is, things heat up.  The murder victim is not the only casualty by the end of the book.

Slews of side characters abound which add tons of atmosphere and flavor to the story.  Bow Street and the magistrates are on his trail and it's hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys.  Sebastian's father, an important figure in Parliament, gives him money to help keep him hidden while he searches for the real killer.  Is he the killer? Sebastian's nefarious nephew, who is another prime suspect that was obsessed with the murder victim.  Is he the killer? What are Sebastian's sister and brother-in-law hiding? Are they protecting their son? A son who has sadistic tendencies?  Then there is Sebastian's former mistress and old love, Kat, another actress who was close to the murder victim.  How is she mixed up in all of this?  Can Sebastian manage to keep his old feelings for her at bay while working with her to solve the mystery?  Kat's mixed up somehow in a game of spies and deception - but how and why?  All these questions are answered by the end with a thrilling finale and clever outcome.

I really enjoyed Sebastian's character, but one of the things that drove me crazy about him was that he had the unfortunate tendency to turn up at murder sites at the worst times and he has no compunction to avoid saying his theories aloud to his suspects when accusing them - none whatsoever!  He just blurts out everything willy nilly!  To put it mildly - he's rash.  Still, he does have a flair for disguises.  For a London gentleman about town, he's not bad at jumping across roof tops and getting himself out of scrapes.  He can fit in anywhere, whether it's a London ball room or a stinking dockside tavern.  Although, if he's going to become a detective or consultant for Bow Street in the future, he's going to have to keep his suspicions under wraps.  I'm sure he will for there are plenty of more books in this series and I'm definitely reading them!

Regarding future books, I'll be interested in seeing if an interesting character, Miss Jarvis, plays a part in his future books.  She is the spinster daughter of an influential Parliamentarian.  Her father enjoys playing marionettes with people's lives.  I wonder if Kat will be a recurring character to rattle Sebastian as the series continues as well.

I'm so glad I've discovered these books, a great addition to my ever growing library of historical mysteries!



Svea said...

What a beautiful cover! I really need to venture into this series; I have heard so many good things about C.H. Harris's work. Great review :)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

This is the first thing I've read by C.H. Harris. She's the 2nd author I've recently discovered that writes these kind of mysteries, the other was great too by Kate Ross. I really like this genre!

Joanne said...

Sounds great -- this author has been popping up in my recommendations (I guess since I buy so many historical mysteries at amazon.) I'll have to start this series as I love me some mysteries on the dark side of London. (Can't wait to see what you think of A Broken Vessel - my fav!)

Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

Joanne, I know you'll love this series. It's similar to Julian Kestrel only St. Cyr has money and Julian doesn't! LOL! Vessel's coming up soon! :)

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