Who Buries the Dead
Sebastian St. Cyr #10
By C.S. Harris
Author’s Website: http://www.csharris.net
Brought to you by OBS reviewer Daniele
The grisly murder of a West Indies slave owner and the reappearance of a dangerous enemy from Sebastian St. Cyr’s past combine to put C. S. Harris’s “troubled but compelling antihero” (Booklist) to the ultimate test in this taut, thrilling mystery.
London, 1813. The vicious decapitation of Stanley Preston, a wealthy, socially ambitious plantation owner, at Bloody Bridge draws Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, into a macabre and increasingly perilous investigation. The discovery near the body of an aged lead coffin strap bearing the inscription King Charles, 1648 suggests a link between this killing and the beheading of the deposed seventeenth-century Stuart monarch. Equally troubling, the victim’s kinship to the current Home Secretary draws the notice of Sebastian’s powerful father-in-law, Lord Jarvis, who will exploit any means to pursue his own clandestine ends.
Working in concert with his fiercely independent wife, Hero, Sebastian finds his inquiries taking him from the wretched back alleys of Fish Street Hill to the glittering ballrooms of Mayfair as he amasses a list of suspects who range from an eccentric Chelsea curiosity collector to the brother of an unassuming but brilliantly observant spinster named Jane Austen.
But as one brutal murder follows another, it is the connection between the victims and ruthless former army officer Sinclair, Lord Oliphant, that dramatically raises the stakes. Once, Oliphant nearly destroyed Sebastian in a horrific wartime act of carnage and betrayal. Now the vindictive former colonel might well pose a threat not only to Sebastian but to everything—and everyone—Sebastian holds most dear. (Goodreads)
Who Buries the Dead is the tenth installment in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, and it is one of the best books I have read in a long while. Sir Henry Lovejoy, a local Bow Street magistrate, calls on Sebastian, Viscount Devlin, for assistance when West Indies plantation owner Stanley Preston’s head is found on display at the Bloody Bridge. Initially, no one is sure what drew Preston to the sketchy area of town. He was not robbed, but, curiously, a lead coffin strap engraved with “King Charles 1648” was found near the bridge. Coincidentally, Sebastian’s father-in-law is involved in keeping the newly discovered casket of Charles I from becoming common knowledge, and the Tudor king’s head has been discovered missing.
Through his investigations, Sebastian learns that Preston was not the easiest of men to get along with and had confrontations with several people shortly before his death, one of which happened to be Jane Asten’s (yes, that Jane) bother and another was his daughter’s thwarted suitor. He was a collector of curiosities, the more infamous the better, which led to dealings with nefarious individuals. Additionally, the former colonel governor of Jamaica Sinclair, Sir Oliphant, has returned to London after losing his position, possibly by Preston’s hand. Sinclair and Sebastian share a dark history; Sebastian had even vowed to kill Sinclair. So, as you can see, there are plenty of plausible suspects, both wealthy and poor, who provide many twists and turns throughout the story, keeping the mystery fresh and fast paced. The story is chock full of murder, macabre artifacts, grave robbing, and mistaken identity. In addition to the mystery, there is a continuing story arc that includes Sebastian’s wife and newborn son, his best friend’s continued fight with opium addiction, and his tense relationship with his father-in-law.
Harris has created well drawn, complex characters. They are interesting and diverse. Sebastian is a bit larger than life, but for the most part he comes across as a fine antihero. The era is well researched and rings true. Though the story is serious, at times the dialogue is witty. It was complicated enough to keep me guessing throughout. Jane Austen’s cameo of sorts, though only a small part of the book, was wonderful, and I really enjoyed her explanations and inspirations for her characters.
Historical mysteries are a favorite indulgence, and this one did not disappoint. I confess that I have not read all of the other books in the series, but I will definitely read (and possibly reread) them all sooner rather than later. Though I suggest reading the books in order, I was easily able to catch up and keep up with the characters. Who Buries the Dead has reminded me of what I have been missing. I highly recommend this mystery to readers looking for a complex mystery with smart writing and fans of historical mysteries.
*OBS would like to thank the publisher for supplying a free copy of this title in exchange for an honest review as part of their ongoing blog tour*