This is a fairly fluffy (but not to the level of ‘cozy,’ I don’t think) mystery, the first in a series and a pretty good set-up for more. Rachel York, an actress in 1800s London is brutally murdered, one of Sebastian St. Cyr’s dueling pistols is found on the scene, and “St. Cyr” is written in Rachel’s daily planner for the evening she died. Sebastian, a war vet and local nobleman, decides that rather than let himself be arrested, it’s better to steal a carriage, then a horse, and flee, to solve the crime by himself rather than entrust his case to the sometimes-crooked constabulary.
Sebastian is basically an 1811 version of Ethan Hunt, and he uses his shadowy network of questionable friends and ex-girlfriends, plus a newly-recruited tatterdemalion, to investigate. There are heaps of suspects, including his own drunken frat boy of a nephew. There’s also a layer of political intrigue going on, as Whigs and Tories and princely Regents are maneuvering in various Old White Guy Power Plays ™. Is Rachel’s murder connected to the politics? Is she a spy for Napoleon? When Rachel’s maid is also murdered and Sebastian is seen on the scene (but just investigating, he swears!), things get hairier.
There’s romance, and intrigue, and a big showdown at the end. It’s all familiar, but done well enough that I didn’t care. There’s more action than usual in a Regency-type book, but sometimes it feels like Harris is marking things off on the “required for Regency” checklist. If you’ve ever read a Georgette Heyer, and/or you know what a reticule and a phaeton are, you’ll roll your eyes and move on past the unnecessary descriptions of clothes and transportation.
I liked Sebastian, and I liked the street rat he employs as junior detective and messenger, and I even liked the police inspector who never quite believed that Sebastian was guilty. I will definitely check out the next one in the series.