Review: When Falcons Fall by C. S. Harris

When Falcons Fall by C. S. Harris is the 11th book in the Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery series.

It was the fly that got to him.

In the misty light of early morning, the dead woman looked as if she might be sleeping, her dusky lashes resting against cheeks of pale eggshell, her lips faintly parted. She lay at the edge of a clover-strewn meadow near the river, the back of her head nestled against a mossy log, her slim hands folded at the high waist of her fashionable dove gray mourning gown.

Then that fly came crawling out of her mouth.

Sebastian St. Cyr, Lord Devlin, has hardly arrived in the quiet village of Ayleswick-on-Teme in August of 1813 before he finds himself caught up in yet another series of mysterious deaths. 

Emma Chance, a young widow on a sketching excursion, had been in the area for less than a week before someone snuffed the life from her—and then posed her in a manner that suggested suicide. This careful cover leads Devlin to wonder: perhaps some of the other untimely deaths in the area were no mere accidents or suicides. Perhaps there's a murderer lurking in Ayleswick … one who has been operating for nearly two decades.

But what could the killer's motivation be? Could it have something to do with Mrs. Chance's true identity and the questions she was asking all over town? Was it a crime of passion, or was it to keep the young woman from revealing something she witnessed or discovered?

Or perhaps it has something to do with one of the men she recently sketched…

Sebastian flipped the page. The next portrait was of Archie Rawlins, looking wide-eyed and eager but a touch unsure of himself. Emma Chance had been more than simply adept at capturing her subjects' likenesses; she'd also possessed a rare gift for discerning and conveying the subtle nuances of personality and character.

“And that's me,” said Rawlins with a soft, breathy laugh. “When did she do it?” He began turning the pages. “Look; there's the vicar. And that's Reuben Dickie and…” He broke off, his hand stilling at the sight of a full-length drawing of a man.

Most of the other portraits had been sketches only, usually showing a head and shoulders or, at most, the upper torso. But this was a full-length, careful rendering in charcoal of a man turned as if to look back at the artist, his wavy dark hair cut low across his forehead, his nose long and slightly arched, his gently molded lips and cleft chin painfully familiar.

“Good heavens,” said Hero. “It's Napoleon.”

In true Sebastian St. Cyr fashion, this eleventh installment in the series has multiple layers that must be peeled away before the truth is laid bare, and is rife with historical details and societal commentary. 

Sebastian's wife Hero is hard at work on an article highlighting the disastrous effect the Enclosure Acts have had on England's poor. Napoleon's brother Lucien—exiled and under English supervision in the last days of the Corsican's empire—plays a direct role in the unfolding mystery. The tiny village of Ayleswick is haunted not only by the current war with France and recent spate of strange deaths, but by a past tainted with lordly abuse and public executions on false charges. 

Originally drawn to Ayleswick on a final errand to a fallen friend—and in the hopes of learning intimate, personal truths—our hero finds himself as haunted as the village as he uncovers more and more parallels between himself and the ill-fated Emma Chance. 

He wanted to say, I came to Shropshire because I can't seem to let go of this need to know. To know the true identity of my father, to know if I lost a brother the day Jamie Knox died, to know why my eyes are yellow rather than a deep St. Cyr blue. Except, all I've found are more questions. More questions, and a murdered young woman on a painful quest so similar to my own. And now, in the process of solving her murder, I'm afraid I'm about to destroy what's left of a family that has already suffered too much because of me.

When Falcons Fall is steeped in atmospheric tragedy that fairly oozes off the pages. Harris's writing is as evocative and cinematic as ever, full of wealthy machinations, the sordid secrets of a small town, and a climactic confrontation amidst ruins and rain. 

Sebastian remains a worthy and noble hero, as does wife Hero, who is far from a shrinking violet despite marriage and motherhood. Though she dies before even the first page, victim Emma is a tangible and poignant presence throughout the following narrative—her fate is already sealed, and yet with each new revelation we continue to wish things had ended far differently for her.  

When it comes to historical mystery, few do it better than C. S. Harris. After eleven installments, many series stale and falter, but—thankfully—neither is true with Sebastian St. Cyr, who only grows more complex and human with each new appearance.

See also: Review: What Darkness Brings by C. S. Harris


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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.


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