Who Cries for the Lost (2023) by C. S. Harris (Candice Proctor)
In this latest chronicle about Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin, all of London is waiting for news that Wellington and the allies of Britain are ready to unseat Napoleon for the final time. But, although Waterloo lies ahead of him, Wellington seems content to party and seems confident that the Little Corporal will meet him on the battlefield at time of his (Wellington's) choosing. Sebastian isn't so sure and is chafing at the bit to join his former comrades on the continent. However, Sebastian is still recuperating from a nasty leg wound received in Paris over six months ago while on a mission to find his missing mother. And his detective skills are needed at home when the mutilated corpse of Major Miles Sedgewick is dragged out of the Thames.
Sedgewick was known to Sebastian during the war on the Peninsula--known as a man who could be charming, fearlessly brave, and clever as an undercover officer, but also treacherous, untrustworthy, willing to do anything to get what he wanted. He was also known, under the name Miles Sauvage, to Paul Gibson's French lover Alexi whom he tricked into a bigamous marriage during the war and discarded as soon as they were in England. Given the nature of the wounds on Sedgewick's body, it appears that someone hated him enough to mutilate him--could it have been Alexi? Or one of the other women he deceived, including his wife and his most current mistress, a governess who lost her position because of him? It's also possible that a cuckolded husband (and there were several) may have decided to seek revenge.
But when more mutilated bodies are found--several with ties to the military and/or espionage--Sebastian begins to wonder if the deaths are political. And when he learns that Sedgewick had been carrying a list of those who once spied for Napoleon, he's sure that his father-in-law, Lord Jarvis is involved somehow. But those killed by Jarvis's men are usually killed more cleanly and efficiently. Then, of course, there is Sedgewick's odd interest in folklore and the occult. Sebastian's investigation reveals that many of the mutilations have connections to folklore about werewolves. Did Sedgewick's interest in the occult lead to his death? Sebastian needs to work fast to find out because someone doesn't like his nosing about for clues and has sent him a message threatening all he holds most dear.
The Sebastian St. Cyr series is one of my all-time favorite historical mystery series. It is also the only modern mystery series that has me on the edge-of-my-seat, I-can't-wait-till-the-next-one-comes out. I had been waiting in the library's hold line for this for what seemed like eons (okay, only since April...but still). And then, once I brought it home from the library, I still had to wait because I was in the middle of another book and had to finish it first. Rather than savor it, I just devoured it in practically one sitting. That's how good these are.
Harris has an MA and PhD in European history and her stories always feature interesting bits of history that are vital to the plot. The information is worked into the dialogue and descriptions in such a way that readers learn a lot without feeling like they are getting info dumps. I remember reading something about the island of Cabera, but I couldn't tell you where and I didn't remember its importance. She also has a gift for character. Each person introduced has a vibrant personality--no matter how brief their time on Harris's stage.
This is one of Harris's more intricate plots. There are several threads that might lead to the killer, but it will take someone more observant than me to pick out the right one that shows the way through the maze. It consists of quite a tangle of lies, deceptions, and apparently contradictory evidence and the intrigue is enough to keep the reader engaged from the first page to the last. One of Harris's best. ★★★★★
First lines: The dead man smelled like fish. Rotting fish.
Last lines: And then he said it again in case she couldn't quite believe him. "I mean it."
Deaths = 13 (three stabbed; three natural; three strangled; two fell from height; one shot; one drowned)