When Falcons Fall
Sebastian St Cyr Mystery, Book #11
By C. S. Harris
Author Website: http://csharris.net
Ayleswick-on-Teme, 1813. Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has come to this seemingly peaceful Shropshire village to honor a slain friend and on a quest to learn more about his own ancestry. But when the body of a lovely widow is found on the banks of the River Teme, a bottle of laudanum at her side, the village’s inexperienced new magistrate turns to St. Cyr for help.
Almost immediately, Sebastian realizes that Emma Chance did not, in truth, take her own life. Less easy to discern is exactly how she died, and why. For as Sebastian and Hero soon discover, Emma was hiding both her true identity and her real reasons for traveling to Ayleswick. Also troubling are the machinations of Lucien Bonaparte, the estranged brother of the megalomaniac French Emperor Napoleon. Held captive under the British government’s watchful eye, the younger Bonaparte is restless, ambitious, and treacherous.
Sebastian’s investigation takes on new urgency when he discovers that Emma was not the first, or even the second, beautiful young woman in the village to die under suspicious circumstances. Home to the eerie ruins of an ancient monastery, Ayleswick reveals itself to be a dark and dangerous place of secrets that have festered among the villagers for decades—and a violent past that may be connected to Sebastian’s own unsettling origins. And as he faces his most diabolical opponent ever, he is forced to consider what malevolence he’s willing to embrace in order to destroy a killer. (Goodreads)
A fantastic addition to the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency period mystery series, When Falcons Fall presents readers with a complex mystery, expertly drawn characters, and interesting historical tidbits that are sure to please fans of C.S. Harris and newcomers alike.
At the behest of a dying man, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, leaves his London home with wife and son in tow to travel to Shropshire to deliver a gift to Jamie Knox’s grandmother and pay his respects. He also hopes to learn more about his own mysterious father and how his mother came to own a certain necklace. He has barely settled in town when the local squire, who is young and new to his role as justice of the peace for the village, seeks him out hoping Sebastian will help him with the death of a young woman. A new widow claiming to be traveling about on a sketching expedition, Emma Chance was also new to the village. It does not take long for Sebastian to discern that Emma did not take her own life but was murdered. As he unearths the secrets of the village, he learns that Emma was not really Emma at all and that she is not the first young woman to die under mysterious circumstances. To make matters even more complicated, Napoleon Bonaparte’s exiled brother has come to town with his family, and Sebastian cannot help but wonder if there are connections between the two events. As the body count rises, Sebastian, with the help of his supportive wife Hero, puts himself in danger to uncover the truth, a truth that may hit a little too close to home.
The Sebastian St. Cyr books are among my favorites, and I impatiently await each new release. C. S. Harris does an admirable job of weaving historically accurate period detail into the stories without ever crossing over into a dry, lecturing tone. Part of what I enjoy about reading historical mysteries is learning about events and circumstances of the past. Here Ms. Harris touches on political issues of the day, espionage, and societal attitudes about suicide, illegitimacy, and the seemingly never ending divide between the haves and the have-nots. The author’s vivid descriptions firmly plant the reader right in the middle of the action.
Sebastian is a complicated character, though marriage and fatherhood seem to have mellowed him a bit. Even though he and his wife Hero are aristocrats, they are just unconventional enough to be endlessly interesting. Ever the champion for the dead, Sebastian investigates mortality with the same fervor he exhibits in pursuit of the truth of his parentage. I could not help but see parallels between his quest and Emma’s. Hero, as always, is a robust female figure, and her contributions to the investigation made up for Sebastian’s missing usual London cohorts’ input. I particularly enjoy the scenes between the couple and wished for a bit more from them. As a strong, independent, intelligent, and unconventional pair, their relationship has solidified over time, but I wish there was more growth there.
The enigma surrounding Emma’s death and identity is spellbinding, and the addition of the village’s furtive history makes for a compelling read. It is exciting to follow along beside Sebastian as he makes his way through the potential suspects and motives to uncover the truth. The suspects and supporting characters really bring the story to life. Whether they be a precocious child, a disinterested constable, or a shattered lover (to name a few), every character introduced plays an important role in the tale’s resolution.
When Falcons Fall is definitely one of my top reads of the year, and I highly recommend it to current fans of the series, those who are interested in the Regency period, and to anyone who enjoys complex characters and plots.