It is the beginning of 1811, and in London politicians and advisers are planning how to proceed with succeeding King George, who slips ever further into madness, and the upper classes are nervous that revolutionary fervour will turn the populace against them, too.
When the ravished, slashed, blood-soaked body of a young woman is found in the lady's chapel of a parish church not far from Westminster Abbey, even the police are shocked. Sir Henry Lovejoy is investigating the crime - the discovery of a pistol in the dead woman's cloak provides almost the only clue. It belongs to Sebastian St Cyr, a viscount who served as a spy in the war against Napoleon and who returned to London a very different man. Political pressure is high, and the investigation is driven by fears that news of a nobleman avoiding quick and severe justice for such a heinous crime will incite an anti-noble backlash that will spark a British revolution.
Fresh from a duel, St Cyr is arrested by a constable whose class-driven anger causes a fatal incident and propels St Cyr to flight. Anxious in equal parts to remove suspicion from himself and to find the real killer, he hides among the lower classes and investigates the case himself.
What Angels Fear is a truly great work - Harris, (better known as historical romance writer Candice Proctor), has combined a strong mystery with a genuinely engaging protagonist, and set it in a clearly well-researched era, while avoiding hitting the reader over the head with historical accurate, "I researched this" facts.
Although St Cyr is blessed with many attributes (from the de rigueur intelligence and athleticism to stunningly acute hearing and night vision, which Harris attributes to "Bithil Syndrome, a little-known but very real genetic mutation"), Harris's writing spares him from being an insufferable 19th century superman.
Self-contained but allowing possibility for further adventures, I was pleased to discover that What Angels Fear is only the first St Cyr novel - I look forward to the next installment but will delay it until I need something to bring me out of a run of bad books. - Alex