I was actually reading a different novel (still trying to get through that sci-fi novel I mentioned before especially since it has taken an unfortunate turn and become a bit of a drag) but I have had some upsetting news followed by more upsetting conversations, and I needed something else to distract me. This novel ended up being perfect for that!
As with many of the Sebastian St. Cyr, Harris works in a potential French conspiracy angle, this time through the presence of Napoleon’s younger brother Lucien Bonaparte. While there are some interesting historical bits that come out of this, the fact that French agents are included in almost every novel would be one of the things about the series that occasionally irritates me.
However, despite the use of that pet peeve in the plot, this is my favorite of the last half of the series so far, and I think it is due to the intimacy of the setting and the crime. It felt much more personal than some of the previous elaborate, larger than life investigations (even if those investigations sometimes had very personal motives), and the reduced scale worked for me very well.
Sebastian and Hero are visiting the small village of Ayleswick-on-Teme in Shropshire to follow up on a potential lead involving Sebastian’s heritage. Jamie Knox, his bar tavern look-a-like, came from that village, and had also mentioned in the last novel that he recognized Sebastian’s mother’s necklace from a portrait at a local lord’s home. Sebastian’s reputation, however, precedes him and when the new squire suspects that all is not right with an apparent suicide, he asks for Sebastian’ assistance.
Sebastian quickly realizes that the woman wasn’t who she was pretending to be, and that her sketching tour was a cover for her real motivations. Hero, meanwhile, is using the village setting to write another one of her articles, this one on the effects of Enclosure Acts on local communities. Her research reveals a village haunted by the past, where local outrage against the enclosures gave rich landlords the excuse to destroy the local of a way of life, executing and transporting dissenters. Hero also discovers a rash of potentially suspicious deaths and more alleged suicides by young women in the village’s recent(ish) past.
Hero’s and Sebastian’s investigation efforts get almost equal time, and I liked how Harris divided the focus. While some of my favorite characters didn’t make an appearance, the break from London felt like a breath of air (how appropriate for a village setting), and I enjoyed the English history lesson in the novel after having received an extensive French history lesson in Why Kings Confess.