REVIEW: C. S. Harris’s WHAT THE DEVIL KNOWS

What the Devil Knows is C. S. Harris’s 16th Regency-set Sebastian St. Cyr mystery. Always leery of a series losing its reading-lustre, I’m amazed how each one keeps me in thrall for the one or two days in which I devour it. Part of it is thanks to Harris’s rich historical setting, focussed on the injustices of a society where the privileges of wealth and birth are in turn the exploiters of the poor, vulnerable, and low-born. Most of it, however, is due to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin; wife, Hero (adorable son, Simon), a slew of sleuthing-helpers (among my favourites, Irish surgeon Paul Gibson and Sebastian’s “tiger,” Tom) who care: they care about justice being done, they care about the downtrodden; they care about the precarious lives of the ordinary people who make up Regency London. If you come looking for the verve and froth of Bridgerton‘s London (I loved it, but this is a different animal), you won’t find it. Instead, the steadiest, most loving of couples and Harris’s meticulously researched world, more in service of great fiction than exactitude (always read the author’s note). In What the Devil Knows, London’s port and the publicans who serve her is her setting; past murders and mysteriously connected new ones set Sebastian on the path to untangling past and present:

It’s October 1814. The war with France is finally over and Europe’s diplomats are convening in Vienna for a conference that will put their world back together. With peace finally at hand, London suddenly finds itself in the grip of a series of heinous murders eerily similar to the Ratcliffe Highway murders of three years before.

In 1811, two entire families were viciously murdered in their homes. A suspect–a young seaman named John Williams–was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Williams hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way three years later and others possibly connected to the original case meet violent ends, the city is paralyzed with terror once more.

Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym’s colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Williams was not the real killer. Which begs the question–who was and why are they dead set on killing again? Continue reading

Review: Cathy Pegau’s BORROWING DEATH

borrowing_deathCathy Pegau’s second Charlotte Brody historical murder mystery, Borrowing Death, is set between two colossal mistakes: the Great War and the enacting and enforcing of American Prohibition. While the Great War remains a definitive Canadian event, Prohibition figures prominently in the social rifts and conflicts of Pegau’s early-twentieth-century-Alaska-set novel. But Pegau’s journalist-amateur-sleuth heroine, Charlotte Brody, embodies an equally important historical moment. As Charlotte says, she’s not as interested in the 18th Amendment as she is in the 19th.

Charlotte is an independent, idealistic young woman, working as a journalist, deeply committed to causes near and dear to her, women’s suffrage and rights. Though only in her early twenties, Charlotte has done some living. She travelled from afar to the frontier town of Cordova. In the series’s first book, we learn Charlotte survived a fraught love affair. Her relationship with former lover Richard left her with a sour view of men and relationships and a diminished sense of her ability to understand and judge people. When she refused to follow her lover’s demand for a conventional end to their romance, that is, marriage, children, and Charlotte as home-maker, wife, mother, he turned on her. As a result, Charlotte made painful, irrevocable decisions, one that haunts her still. Moving to Cordova, reuniting with her brother Michael, is how Charlotte will lay the past to rest. Her writing and sleuthing, curiosity and intelligence, restore Charlotte’s faith in herself. If she can only find some way to restore her faith in romantic love.  Continue reading