A horrific murder, an interesting protagonist, political intrigue and even a little romance combine to make What Angels Fear by C.S. Harris a terrific read for historical mystery enthusiasts. The mystery is the first in a series that features Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, a young nobleman who has recently returned to London from fighting Napoleon’s forces in Spain and Portugal.
Rachel York, a young actress is murdered in a violent manner at a church in Westminster. Evidence left at the scene points to Viscount Devlin, who of course was nowhere near the church that evening. When the Westminster magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy shows up to arrest Sebastian, Sebastian is forced to flee. Where should he go—the continent? America? Or should he stay in London and find the real murderer? Even though he is haunted by his experiences in the Napoleonic Wars, Devlin draws upon his deep sense of honor and decides to stay in London not just to clear his name but to find justice for the victim as well.
As Sebastian tries to unravel the actress’s last days Sebastian travels through wealthy Mayfair, political Westminster and also into the slums of London. Sebastian is helped in his inquiries by former army surgeon and friend, Paul Gibson, a young street urchin named Tom, and Sebastian’s former lover, the actress Kat Boleyn. Sebastian soon finds a whole host of suspects—Rachel’s former lovers and colleagues, a French spymaster, government officials and even his own father and nephew.
I found Sebastian to be a fascinating hero — though I am sure he would say he wasn’t a hero himself. Despite his restlessness since returning to England, Sebastian would seem to be like all the other rich noblemen, but he combines his sense of honor and justice with cool-headed thinking and physical action. As Sebastian solves the mystery of Rachel York’s murder, he starts to also uncover some mysteries within his own family. In fact what I find most compelling about this series is the continuing story of Sebastian’s personal life and his family history. Set in 1811 England, I also like the historical content of the books which include the descriptions of early 19th-century London, the various characters from all levels of society and even the political maneuverings as the Prince of Wales prepares to step in as Regent.
If you find you want more Sebastian St. Cyr stories, there are five more mysteries following What Angels Fear — When Gods Die, Why Mermaids Sing, Where Serpents Sleep, What Remains of Heaven and the recently released Where Shadows Dance. In each novel, Sebastian has a new mystery to solve, but the puzzle of his family continues to unfold through each book.
Check the WRL catalog for What Angels Fear