Two months after the birth of his son Simon, Sebastian finds himself involved in another murder case when Sir Henry Lovejoy asks for his assistance. One thing that amused me quite a bit is how many people asked Sebastian if he was going to continue with this hobby now that he was married and had a child since it was so dangerous. I guess it’s the closest 19th century England would get to asking a man “how do you balance career and family? Who is watching the kids?”
While Harris has always slipped historical figures into her stories, especially political figures and monarchs, she has also featured a baby Lord Alfred Tennyson and now Jane Austen. This gives Harris an excuse to refer to one character as Colonel Brandon, another as a potential Wickham or Willoughby, and create obvious parallels to Persuasion in one of the character’s story lines.
The victim, Samuel Preston, collects artefacts once owned by famous people, and even has the heads of three famous dead people in his possession (including the head of Lady Jane Grey’s father, thus creating a connection to another recent read, My Lady Jane). This leads to the question whether the fact that Preston was decapitated and his head displayed on a bridge had anything to do with his hobby. As in most cases, Preston quarreled with a decent amount of people prior to his death, including a competing collector, a supplier of strange artefacts, his daughter and her suitor, and his banker. He, and several other characters in this novel, also have a connection to Jamaica as landholders and slave owners though this doesn’t prevent people from describing him as a generally pleasant man.
Jarvis, meanwhile, is dealing with some grotesque antiques as well – construction workers at Windsor have stumbled onto the tomb of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, and discovered that Henry and Jane have a surprise tenant: Charles I. The Prince Regent is slightly obsessed with Stuart history and has ordered the tomb secured until he can do a private viewing, but the discovery of a leather strap from the coffin at the crime scene means that someone has failed in his guard duties. Jarvis needs Sebastian to solve the murder, hoping that will lead to a return of any items missing from the tomb before Prinny has to be made aware of any problems.
Sebastian’s past and the Portugal incident also continue to haunt him as this case brings him face to face with the man responsible. As far as the series plot line goes, the first few novels dealt mostly with Sebastian discovering hidden family secrets while the last few have confronted his Army service and one of the actions that still haunts him. While it was nice to get clarity on what has been causing his nightmares, I’m also ready for the novels to turn back to the family history part, see him patch up his relationship with Hendo, resolve his mother issues and figure out his real paternal heritage. Based on where this one ends, it seems like Harris agrees with at least part of that assessment.