Two Historical Mysteries, by C. S. Harris, and Carol Hedges

Teresa Edgerton

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What Cannot Be Said, by C. S. Harris (Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries, Book 19)

The setting is England during the decadent reign of George IV. A noblewoman and her daughter have been murdered at Richmond Park, in a seemingly random act of violence—except that it duplicates in so many ways another crime from many years before. Is it a copy-cat crime, or has the same murderer resurfaced after laying-low for a decade? If the latter, why has he waited so long, and why does he act now? A man was hung for that previous crime, so there is the added complication now of not only trying to find and stop a (perhaps) serial-killer, but also to (perhaps) clear the name of an innocent man. (Which of course the authorities would rather not happen. They got their man, didn't they? Why rake up the past and embarrass themselves with an unpalatable truth? But one magistrate, Sir Henry Lovejoy, a friend of our protagonist, is a deeply religious and upstanding man who does care about the truth, and especially in these circumstances, because the victims in the older case were his own wife and daughter. If their murderer is still at large, he certainly wants to know about that and bring the guilty party to justice.)

The murders in this series are sometimes a bit too nightmarish for my taste, but I keep on reading because I'm attached to the two main characters: Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, and his wife Hero. With each new offering in the series, I am eager to see how their lives are proceeding—also, there was an ongoing mystery about Sebastian's true parentage, but that was resolved a while ago.

Sebastian solves murders because he has a passion for justice and is well aware of the flaws in the justice system of his time, and the influence that powerful people can exert to get the result they wish for, regardless of the truth, regardless of guilt or innocence. He is not easily intimidated by the threats of the powerful—including his own father-in-law, a ruthless nobleman who will do anything to support his cousin King George. Remarkably keen eyesight and hearing, and exceptional reflexes have brought Sebastian safely through many a deadly encounter during the Napoleonic wars and now during his investigations. He is something of a super-hero (though not really), in the Batman mode (that is, no super powers, and yet not an ordinary individual either), but without the gadgets or the secret identity.

His Viscountess, Hero, is intelligent and courageous (too intelligent and courageous in her father's opinion, not qualities he can admire in a female, though he knows he would have valued those same qualities in a son), a compassionate woman, and unlike her father she has a deep interest in and sympathy for the plight of the poor. She is loyal to her father, but not to his goals; hers are more in line with Sebastian's. Early in their marriage divided loyalties caused a certain amount of strain, but that is less of a problem now. She loves her father (as he, in his cold way, loves her) but neither approves of the other. Whether he would go so far as to sacrifice her or her young son in pursuit of those goals has yet to be tested, but there is little doubt that he would happily make her a widow if the situation required it. In fact whenever Sebastian narrowly escapes death at the hands of hired thugs—a pretty regular occurance for him—Lord Jarvis is usually his first suspect as the man behind the attack. Hero refuses to conform to the expectation that a woman of her class should not concern herself too much with the dirtier and more unpleasant aspects of life. Charitable endeavors are expected, of course, but one shouldn't get too close to the objects of one's charity— instead, keep a safe distance, and don't look at things too closely! But that's not good enough for Hero. Through much of the series she is researching and publishing articles on the poor of London. Her interviews with the working poor provide insight into a darker side of the time and place, though it is through Sebastian and his investigations that an even darker side is uncovered. Sometimes her researches and Sebastian's cases overlap.

This murder was less gruesome than in many of the previous books in the series (in this case, the victims were merely shot, and posed afterward in the manner of the earlier murder in the park), but the final solution to the mystery was such as to shock and appall even Sebastian.


Pride & Pestilence (The Victorian Detectives, Book 11), by Carol Hedges. What I enjoy in this series is the intricate plots, the vivid portrayals of Victorian London, and the Dickensian characterizations and clever prose. (Though unlike another series I have written previously, "Charles Dickens Investigations," that I like for similar reasons, Dickens himself does not turn up in these mysteries.)

At the time of this series, the Metropolitan Police were comparatively new and not much trusted, and forensic science was in its infancy, so the police detectives need rather more grit and determination than their later literary counterparts (alas for them, no geniuses here, no flashes of brilliance, just reasonably intelligent, experienced, and hard-working men ). All the books in this series have alliterative titles, and since a possible outbreak of deadly disease figures in the plot, the title must have easily suggested itself. There is no connection to Jane Austen or her work. There are myriad Austen variations available at online bookstores, but this isn't one of them.

When a common laborer turns up dead of the bubonic plague, and the bodies of three of his fellow workers and a hospital porter are found bearing marks of the same disease, authorities act to keep the matter secret, lest a dangerous panic sweep through London. Unfortunately, those workers have been excavating for the new sewer lines and uncovered a plague pit. Loose lips and yellow journalism produce the very result that the police and medical establishment have dreaded, despite repeated reassurances that the plague can't be transmitted via bones buried for centuries, and (even more telling) the absence of further victims. A second plot revolves around a greedy family squabbling over an inheritance, and a foundling child who may or may not be a missing heiress. This book has all the strengths of the previous books in the series, except that there is less sense of urgency. Nevertheless, since we've all been through a recent pandemic ourselves, it is easy to identify with the situation here.
 

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