It’s 1811, and the threat of revolution haunts the upper classes of King George III’s England. Then a beautiful young woman is found raped and savagely murdered on the altar steps of an ancient church near Westminster Abbey. A dueling pistol discovered at the scene and the damning testimony of a witness both point to one man, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, a brilliant young nobleman shattered by his experience in the Napoleonic Wars.
Now a fugitive running for his life, Sebastian calls upon his skill as an agent during the war to catch the killer and prove his own innocence. In the process, he accumulates a band of unlikely allies, including the enigmatic beauty Kat Boleyn, who broke Sebastian’s heart years ago. In Sebastian’s world of intrigue and espionage, nothing is as it seems, yet the truth may hold the key to the future of the British monarchy, as well as to Sebastian’s own salvation….
Sometimes I throw caution to the wind and buy a book on concept alone. I barely read the synopsis before snatching up What Angels Fear. A regency murder mystery with a main character who’s supposedly a Sherlock Holmes and James Bond hybrid? Sounds like my idea of a good time.
To be a little more specific, What Angels Fear opens with Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, who is a mere 28 years old and has already seen the full horror of what war has to offer. Born in privilege, but mentally and emotionally hardened, he is accused of the brutal slaying of Rachel York, an actress of lower birth. Refusing to leave England, he chooses to do what it takes to solve the mystery of her murder and catch her killer. As the mystery unfolds, Rachel’s death holds the key to a lot of questions asked about England’s tumultuous reign.
What Angels Fear is definitely what I call an ‘onion’ book: peel back those layers. This is a mystery that depends on exposure instead of twists. Instead of turning a sharp corner, C.S. Harris layers on answers and of course, political intrigue. Anyone who has read my reviews knows just the words ‘political intrigue’ make me happy. It was a book easy to read and stay engrossed with. It was a nice change of pace from the nail-biting, WTF type books I’ve been reading lately. You know the cozy murder mysteries you’d read next to a rustic fire? Right here.
To those asking what’s probably the most important question: yes, Sebastian St. Cyr is everything you could possibly hope for. He has the sharp wit, the clever deductive reasoning, the cynical side, and those moments of empathy for others even when he can barely save his own skin. He has a startling capacity for vulnerability, which isn’t something all that common when the author is going for the sexy, silent type.
At the same time though, this is a weakness. Any way you look at it, this is an archetype we’ve seen before, and many of the characters and plot lines fall into cliché territory. Kat Boleyn, the love interest, is the forbidden fruit. Rachel York had nobility wrapped around her fingers. The injured, gruff surgeon from military days makes an appearance. The hesitant constable, head of police. And of course, the mustache twirling jerk who didn’t murder anyone, but makes you certainly wish he did. They all come out in a line that made me laugh, and not necessarily in a good way, but I will say that Harris managed to make all of these characters charming. I felt for these characters. I wanted to see what happens next for their sake as well as my own curiosity. It’s often said in the writing world that nothing left is original, and if you’re going to take a trope, make it your own. Harris succeeds in this fashion.
One thing I will mention is that the writing here is clumsy. There are times when you can see Harris’ raw potential. I actually had to look up several words that she pulled from the Regency era, and the writing style matches the period. On the other hand though, she is very repetitive. There’s only so much you can say “what was left of Rachel York” to describe her corpse before it pulls the reader out of the story. Especially when writing in a setting that is supposed to be so elegant, writing that stumbles like this is only more apparent.
In conclusion? This book was a lot of fun. Harris makes up for her own flaws in such a way that it makes me feel that she is aware of them, and she has my respect for that. The story was formulaic, but solid. The characters were borderline cliché, but intriguing. This is the first of 14 (!) books, and I can only hope that the books continue to evolve as Harris gets more comfortable in this world.