Thursday, July 8

Where Serpents Sleep - CS Harris

Sebastian St. Cyr is asked to help investigate what appears to be an accident - the deaths of eight prostitutes in a house fire. There are, however, a couple of interesting elements, including the unwillingness of Bow Street to investigate, evidence that at least one young woman was shot, and the source of the request - Hero Jarvis, daughter and now only child of Lord Jarvis, himself cousin to the king. Hero was interviewing one of the fallen women, to support her suspicions that they turned to prostitution out of dire necessity rather than loose morals, at the time of the attack.
As with its predecessors What Angels Fear, When Gods Die and Why Mermaids Sing, Where Serpents Sleep immersed me in a rich world of privilege and poverty, society and the sordid, mores and immorality. As St. Cyr unravels the murders, performed to cover the death of one particular woman of surprisingly privileged background, he uncovers some of society's dirtiest little secrets. And at the heart is the long shadow of child abuse, at the hands of a prominent man informally known to be
A tad too fond of little girls. It was a polite, euphemistic expression for something so ugly and bestial most Englishmen found it difficult to admit it actually happened in their oh so proper and painfully civil society.
Two hundred years later and little has changed.
One of the most interesting things for me about Where Serpents Sleep was the overlap in setting and era between it and the recently-read Phyllidia and the Brotherhood of Philander, which also mentions the assassination of Prime Minister Spenser Perceval - knowing the assailant from the first book made me more aware of that seam of tension despite my incomplete knowledge of British history. CS Harris does a rather better job of capturing both the spirit and the details of the time, however, including a far more layered description of Almack's.
There is this time little mention of St. Cyr's missing mother, and though his lifelong love, actress and half-sister (so far as they both know), Kat Boleyn, makes an appearance, that plot strand is not advanced further, leaving a tantalising thread for future resolution.
The characters are clear, unique and developed, the plot is intricate without being unduly convoluted, the mysteries are satisfactorily resolved both intellectually and viscerally, and the writing is informed and evocative without being laboured or uninteresting. My only quibble, and it's slight, is the use of dialect ("I was 'opin' maybe I'd get t'ride in yer curricle. I ain't never ridden in a rig like that afore... I ain't gonna pike off"), but it's rare and the quality elsewhere was more than high enough to overlook it. I await book five with anticipatory pleasure. - Alex

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