Where the Dead Lie by C.S. Harris (Berkley, 2017) is the 12th historical mystery featuring Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. This is a wildly popular series set in Regency England, a time of great political unrest. Napoleon was still trying to conquer Europe and King George III had fallen so ill that his son was named Prince Regent to rule the country in his place. Society was sharply divided into classes, and the lines between the haves and have-nots were pronounced. Criminal justice didn’t exist for the poor; inhumane sentences of lengthy prison stays or deportation were handed down for the smallest of crimes. The conscience of society was beginning to stir in regards to the poverty and mistreatment of the lower classes, however. Social work, philanthropy, and organized charity as we know it today started in the 19th century and evolved considerably during that time.
This latest mystery reflects the growing interest in societal welfare as Devlin investigates the disappearance and brutal deaths of London’s street children. Abandoned, orphaned, or simply preferring the streets to their abusive families, these children had no one to rely on except themselves and occasionally each other. His wife Hero, who has been bringing attention to the societal inequities of London, decides to write a series of articles on the plight of these children. Devlin relies on his doctor friend from Army days as well as the network of contacts he has established over the course of his previous investigations to ferret out answers. In doing so, he discovers a series of earlier unreported deaths.
Devlin’s complicated family saga continues, although it’s better balanced here than in other books with the happiness he has found in his marriage and his young son. His estranged father pays Devlin a rare visit to beg him to do what he can to stop the wedding of Devlin’s niece to an aristocratic degenerate, giving Devlin something else to think about and setting up a plot line for the next book or two. Hero’s cousin from India comes to stay with Hero’s parents, pulling Hero’s mother into the story more than she has been recently. As usual, Devlin and his father-in-law strike sparks whenever they meet. Events near the end of the book suggest that their animosity will increase, if that’s possible, in the books to come rather than cool down. I was happy to see the family drama dialed back in this book, as it has overwhelmed the mystery in earlier titles. Devlin’s family brings new meaning to the term “dysfunctional”. However, a little family conflict adds piquancy to a story, a lot turns it into a soap opera.
C.S. Harris is an accomplished author, and her talent screams from every page. Structure and pacing seem effortless (I expect they take a good deal of work). She weaves mystery, suspense, and domestic drama together without dropping a stitch. Her command of the historical time and geographical place is authoritative, due no doubt to her Ph.D. in European history. Her writing is graceful and I find her books compulsively readable, despite their grittiness. They describe unflinchingly the grim details of life in the lower classes during the early 1800s. These books are not for the faint of heart but they are indeed outstanding.
· Hardcover: 352 pages
· Publisher: Berkley; First Edition edition (April 4, 2017)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0451471199
· ISBN-13: 978-0451471192
Aubrey Hamilton © 2017
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal IT projects by day and reads mysteries at night.