My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have a somewhat unsophisticated love for novels set in 1800s England and modern gothic romances. I blame it on my high school obsessed reading of Victoria Holt, Susan Howatch, and Phyllis Whitney. Mary Stewart came later, but is just as engrossing. Then Georgette Heyer and Joan Smith. My love of mysteries is older still, dating back to Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden. When friends from the 52 books in 52 weeks group recommended CS Harris' Sebastian St Cyr novels, I found I couldn't get to the library quickly enough.
I enjoyed this murder mystery set in just-becoming-Regency England, one of my favorite time periods. The intrigues were engaging and the writing hooked me from the beginning, so I read quickly. The detecting without modern CSI-like technology but applying scientific strategies of the period made following St. Cyr's work un-put-downable. His reliance on the information from his witnesses, the political intrigues, family relationships, and red herrings added up to an engrossing read.
Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin is going about his business, when he gets implicated in a murder. Rather than allowing the local courts to look into the matter, he escapes incarceration and investigates himself using the Intelligence skills he learned in the war against Napoleon.
He meets a limited number of characters along the way which should make the reader be able to solve the mystery earlier than I did, albeit the clues are unfolded slowly. The introduction of unsavory characters as comrades is well done and the reader begins to feel sympathy toward them and their plight ... and an interest in what will become of them. In fact, this book sets up many threads that are not neatly tied up and that I'm excited to follow through upon in book 2.
There were parts that disappointed me. The characters occasionally become a little modern, break the time period. At some points the writing became a bit flat - to be expected in a first novel. At others it was relatively gory (lots of blood everywhere). At still others there was a salaciousness that I prefer to avoid in my reading (yes, it the s*x was appropriate to the characters and the murder victim was also raped, but more descriptive than I find necessary - this book is definitely rated R). If you're looking for "clean, traditional" Regency romance, this is not the book for you.
All that being said, I can skim and am looking forward to reading book 2.
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I particularly like liked this section where Tom (a pickpocket boy who has attached himself as a helper to Sebastian) talks about why he made that choice:
"Why?" Sebastian asked suddenly, his gaze on the boy's sharp-featured, freckled face. "Why in God's name have you decided to throw in your lot with a man in my situation? I can't believe it's for a shilling a day, when you could earn many times that by simply lodging information against me at Bow Street."
"I would never do that!"
"Why not? Many would. Perhaps most."
The boy looked troubled. "There's lots o' bad things 'appen in this world. Lots o' bad things what 'appen, and lots o' folks what do bad things. But there's good, too. Me mum, before they put her on that ship for Botany Bay, she told me never to forget that. She said that things like 'onor, and justice, and love are the most important things in the world and that it's up to each and every one of us to always try to be the best person we can possibly be." Tom looked up, his nearly lashless eyes wide and earnest. "I don't think there's many what really believes in that. But you do."
"I don't believe in any of that," Sebastian said, his voice harsh, his soul filled with terror by the admiration he saw shining in the young boy's eyes.
"Yes, you do. Only you thinks you shouldn't. That's all."
"You're wrong," said Sebastian, but the boy simply smiled and walked on. (page 123, emphasis mine.)