Where the Dead Lie by C. S. Harris is the 12th Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, where the gruesome murder of a young boy takes Sebastian St. Cyr from the gritty streets of London to the glittering pleasure haunts of the aristocracy.
In the early morning of Tuesday, September 14, 1813, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is awake at dawn. What is amiss? Or is it that a detective, even an aristocratic one, is somewhat psychic?
His dreams were often disturbed by visions of the past, as if he were condemned to relive certain moments over and over in a never-ending spiral of repentance and atonement. But for the second morning in a row he’d awakened abruptly with no tortured memories, only a vague sense of disquiet as inexplicable as it was disturbing.
Where The Dead Lie, the 12th Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery, takes Sebastian into “a shadowy, sadistic world.” The shadows are the overlooked slums of London where scant notice is taken of inexplicable deaths, particularly if it’s the body of a young homeless boy found in a shallow grave. The marks of torture on Benji Thatcher’s body raise questions of who might have abducted him and why. Paul Gibson—an Irish surgeon, a man with intense personal demons, and a rather unusual friend for the scion of a fabled aristocratic family—tells St. Cyr that the boy had been repeatedly whipped and cut “with a small, very sharp knife.”
Devlin turned to stare again at the small, battered corpse. And there was something about the expression that flickered across his features that made Gibson suspect his friend was thinking about his own infant son, safe at home. He said, “Over how many days was this done to him?”
“Two, maybe three. Some of the wheals were already beginning to heal, although most of the slashes and shallow stab wounds were probably done either right before he was killed or as he was dying.”
Devlin’s gaze focused on the raw wounds circling the boy’s wrists. He’d obviously struggled frantically against his bonds. “Rope, you think?”
“I found hemp fibers embedded in the flesh, although there are signs he was also shackled at some point. He was gagged, too, you can see the chafing at the corners of his mouth.”
“So no one would hear him scream,” said Devlin softly, letting his gaze drift, again, over the boy’s pitiful, tortured boy.
Devlin’s privileged position allows him to make searching inquiries, and his questions uncover disquieting information. Benji is not the first homeless child to disappear off the streets never to be seen again. An ex-soldier tells Devlin that the night Benji’s grave was dug, he saw a man in a cart waiting for the gravedigger. His description of the man sets Devlin off on a search that takes him into the clubs and haunts of London’s most powerful men.
“Can you describe him? The man with the cart, I mean.”
Inchbald lifted his thin shoulders in a vague shrug. “Wot’s to describe? Reckon he was jist yer typical gentleman.”
Depravity and vice is a commodity for aristocrats who can pay for both their pleasure and the promise of secrecy—but Devlin is relentless in his quest to find answers. He interrogates the proprietress of one of London’s most debauched dens, a “tiny woman” whose “strangely pale eyes” remind him “of coiled snakes and glacial lakes in the dead of winter.” He asks her if any of her workers have been abducted. She says yes, occasionally, and then turns the tables on Devlin:
“What do you want from us?”
She laughed out loud. “Our customers expect confidentiality. If we were to give you what you seek, we would be out of business.”
She knows, as does Devlin, that the authorities are aware of her establishment and have chosen to ignore its existence. But it will take more than the disapproval of his peers to stop Devlin from risking “his reputation and his life to keep more innocents from harm.”
Sebastian St. Cyr lives a life animated by the philosophy of Irish statesman and writer Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” But that Viscount Devlin cannot do, no matter where his search for the truth leads him.
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Janet Webb aka @JanetETennessee has unpredictable opinions on books. Season ticket holder of the Oakland Athletics baseball team. Social media devotee. Stories on royals and politics catch my eye. Ottawa born. Grew up on the books of Helen MacInnes, Mary Stewart, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anne Perry … I'm always looking for a great new mystery series.
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