All this week, I thought “How the mighty are fallen” and “pride cometh before a fall” … as I struggled to finish one book, just ONE, C.S. Harris’s thirteenth Sebastian St. Cyr historical murder mystery and part of my favourite series EVER; romance, mystery, history — it has it ALL and you should read it from its glorious beginning, 2005’s What Angels Fear, to its … well, whatever volume Harris is at. (Book 14 is out, Who Slays the Wicked, but I have to await the paperback to afford it. I try not to think about it.)
As I’ve spent the last two posts waxing on and on about the freedom to read whatever I feel like, leaving the ARC TBR behind, blah blah blah … I imagined luxuriating (it would be positively sybaritic, I thought, smirking) in my reading and went on a Amazong ordering frenzy (good thing is, I now have copies of Kate Ross’s Julian Kestrel series, which I’ve wanted to read for years). Sadly, I’d forgotten how work, taking out the garbage, and making my lunch sandwich take time! Also, sleep, many a morning I woke to the alarm bells and ereader screensaver staring at me.
More time suck resulted when I revived my love of knitting (the only reason I stayed sane during grad school) and struggled with mastering the art of the fingerless glove and “the horror, the horror” of double-pointed needles. My spare half hour to catch up with the shitstorm found nightly on CNN (I really should stick to the staid CBC and our staid Canadian politics, but I can’t resist that KA-BLAM of *BREAKING NEWS*) was spent contorting fingers and flailing knitting needles to produce one awkward, misshapen Fingerless Thing with Inelegant Protuberance (aka thumb gusset) … (pictured here as I writhe in neo-knitter’s shame).
And so, my drib-drab reading of C. S. Harris’s always-magnificent St. Cyr mysteries.
Read it I did, with a sigh of utter contentment and love when I tapped the final page on the fascinating author’s research note at near-midnight last night. In this second-to-latest volume, the frisson-inducing-sexy Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, living his best HEA with wife, Hero, Baby Simon, and cat Mr. Darcy, investigates, with Hero’s help, the death of Princess Charlotte’s piano teacher, Jane Ambrose. As with every St. Cyr iteration, I found much to love. How do I count the ways and where do I being? I’ll start with the evolution of Seb and Hero’s marriage, one of “true minds” and truer hearts. It isn’t only that they love each other, share a healthy sex life, and adore their son, it’s their compatibility, companionship, and shared purpose that make them perfect for and with each other. Moreover, Sebastian gives Hero her space, to do her sleuthing, to pursue her causes, to venture into the world as a person of worth and intelligence in her own right.
Moreover, in a minor key, Harris sets Why Kill the Innocent in one of London’s worst winters: at the tail-end of The Great London Fog and a London soon thereafter beset by snow, ice, and dangerous cold. Several key scenes are set during the Frost Fair, which was organized to make entertaining use of a frozen Thames (with one adorable scene when Seb and Hero take one-year-old Simon to the Fair and he gnoshes a square of gingerbread). Atmospherically, Harris evokes weather, time, and place and imbues her novel with reader-transporting descriptive detail.
In a major key, I did think deeply about what makes this series satisfying to me and concluded that it’s a perfect marriage (like Seb and Hero’s) of love and justice. The characters who seek justice for the “innocent,” like Jane Ambrose, are they who are capable of great love. Simply put, they care: a murder isn’t a puzzle to be solved, but a human being who deserves redress, who may be disadvantaged by her society by virtue, in this case, of gender and class. To those who care, Seb and Hero, magistrate Lovejoy, Seb’s doctor friend Paul Gibson and Paul’s doctoring lover, Alexi Sauvage, giving a murder victim redress allows them to set the world, always askew, in one small space, in order. I loved this passage of Sebastian pondering while looking at a portrait of the victim, Jane Ambrose:
Rather than looking outward at the viewer, Jane had her head turned, her attention all for her children. A gentle, loving smile softened her features. Sebastian found it profoundly disturbing to be given this glimpse of her as she’d once been — so warm and glowing with life and love — and then remember the way he’d last seen her, a cold, bloody cadaver on a stone slab in a surgeon’s dissection room. And he knew a powerful surge of fury directed at whoever had robbed her of her future and left her only a memory.
To Seb, Hero, Lovejoy, Paul, and Alexi, an unsolved murder is a test of their humanity, their belief in the value of every life. There is no higher order or calling for them than to redress a wrong, to give those whose voice has been silenced, justice. The ways of the world, its political expediency and dog-eat-dog ethos are not what they live by. Testament to this and evidence of are Sebastian’s confrontations and conflict with his realpolitik father-in-law, Lord Jarvis. Here, they exchange “words”:
“Curiosity is a dangerous weakness. You should strive to overcome it.”
“This isn’t about curiosity. It’s about justice for a vital, talented young woman left in a snowy street with her head bashed in.”
“Justice.” Jarvis rolled the word with distaste …
Because Jarvis does not love, he can only see finding Jane’s murderer as an intellectual exercice at best, the whim of an idle aristocrat-dabbler at worst. Seb, on the other hand, recognizes Jane’s value and humanity. Though Hero is a of cooler temperament, she is driven by the same. Sentiment like this is not often seen as the core of worthy literature: it still resides in the humble recesses of romance novels and some crime fiction.
Now that I’ve near-caught-up with my favourite series, I have a yen to read a romance novel again, so back to the former-ARC TBR I go. I want to continue with Sayers’s Unpleasantness At the Bellona Club and finally write my memento mori post. A Betty Neels is never far from my nightstand. Sadly, MacCulloch’s Christianity reading has stalled till things calm down again work-wise. What have you been reading, crafting, or thinking about?