I’m elated C. S. Harris continues to give us a St. Cyr mystery annually and that I can devote uninterrupted time to reading it because it’s summer holidays for this schoolmarm! And #17, When Blood Lies, did not disappoint; au contraire! I think it’s one of the best of the series, mainly because Harris finally arrives at completing certain story arcs she’s carried over the entire series. And, in her clever way, still leaves us with unanswered questions and the possibility of further revelations. Nevertheless, it still felt like we arrived at a new place for one of our favourite investigating couples, Sebastian and Hero, his wife. Be warned: if you haven’t read the series and wish to, some of the discussion to follow may spoil it for you, so read from book #1 and come back!
When Blood Lies finds our hero, Sebastian; wife, Hero, their adorable two-year-old, Simon; and adopted son, Patrick, who has an uncanny resemblance to Simon and may very likely be Sebastian’s nephew; in Paris for Sebastian, ENFIN!, to confront his long-thought-deceased mother, Sophia, Countess of Hendon. For years, Sebastian thought his mother had drowned when he was a child, but had recently discovered she’s in France. By the first chapter’s end, however, Sophia, with only a momentary whispered recognition of her son, dies, as Sebastian finds her, on the steps leading to the Seine, on the Ile de la Cité, where he and Hero and their sons have been staying.
From that point, Sebastian has to contend with his mixed-feelings for his mother, resentment and love combined, grief, confusion for every question that will remain unanswered, and a burning desire to discover her killer. Along on his journey is Hero, loyal, intelligent, loving, with a cool ability to confront and defeat evil. They are among my favourite sleuthing couples and yet, that word “sleuthing,” makes them sound like they’re having fun; while they’re deeply happy in their marriage and family, Sebastian and Hero are driven by a need to redress wrong, bring justice, expose evil, vindicate the good and the wronged, and are keenly aware of the injustices wrought by class and wealth. Hardly sleuthing.
In this case, pun intended, the murder is personal: who was Sophia, what was her life these twenty-plus years Sebastian thought her dead? And, what about her long-time lover, general to Napoléon, Marshal McClellan, of Jacobite origin, and his uncanny resemblance to Sebastian? And what was her role during the revolution and Napoléon’s rise to power? And, lastly and most importantly, while McClellan is in Vienna negotiating on behalf of the restored Bourbons, why did Sophia, on her way back to France, stop in Italy, on Elba, where the exiled Napoléon plots and bides his time for his return?
One of Harris’s accomplishments in this 17th volume is this interweaving of the historical and personal. Oh, she retains her swashbuckling, intrepid Sebastian and Hero and the body count remains high, though not as high as previous books, but the intensity and tension, in heart-stopping scenes of danger to our hero and heroine, saw me holding my breath. And then, Napoléon makes his move and we know what’s coming, students of history that we are. The stakes are high for Hero and Sebastian, but they are mitigated by scenes of their tenderness for each other, for their children and family, and for this country that has seen both elation and tragedy.
There are moments when I thought Harris’s love of history, of France and this era, saw her add niblets of historical hors d’oeuvres that took away from the narrative: I could see the cue card and feel her love of history. But this is a niggling point, I thoroughly enjoyed my foray into France and now, *taps foot* *drums fingers*, I want to know what happens next, for we leave Sebastian and Hero in France, in uncertain times. Harris leaves us with a cliffhanger and just enough completion for some reader-satisfaction.