Sunday, April 25, 2021

Review: What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris

by C.S. Harris
Release Date: April 6th 2021
2021 Berkley Books
Kindle Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0593102664
Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical
Source: Review copy from publisher

3.5 / 5 Stars

In 1811, two entire families were viciously murdered in their homes. A suspect--a young seaman named John Williams--was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Williams hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way three years later and others possibly connected to the original case meet violent ends, the city is paralyzed with terror once more.

Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym's colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Williams was not the real killer. Which begs the question--who was and why are they dead set on killing again?
My Thoughts
What the Devil Knows is the next entry in the long-running Sebastian St. Cyr historical mystery series, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  This series has been a favourite of mine since the first book was published and I have been an avid fan ever since, following Sebastian's story as he negotiated the treacherous politics of Regency England.  What I have always like about these books is the way the author manages to insert real-life events into her story lines, and this book is no exception, this time incorporating the Ratcliff Highway Murders into this story.  The stories are believable, solid, and interesting, with good character development from both the main and secondary characters, witty dialogue, and subtle political entanglements and power plays.  I thought this book was a solid entry, but didn't quite have that excitement and tension of previous books; it had a good plot, but I felt like it was setting the reader up for some future plot lines to come.
I love Sebastian St. Cyr as a character, but I love his wife, Hero, even more, and wish more of the plot centred on her doings.  Sebastian is still struggling to solve the mystery of his mother and his true paternity, so I feel like this aspect of the book slowed the book down a bit.  I do have to give the author credit though, as it could so easily have gone off course here, but she managed to keep the search for Sebastian's mother a secondary plot line even though you had this sense it would soon become something big in the future.  I do however, miss the more fiery Hero and her passion for helping those in need.  She really seems to have calmed down quite a bit and I feel like this is a weakness in the book. I also really missed Paul Gibson as we only got a few glimpses of him in this book.  
The mystery itself was quite solid, and I liked how the author inserted a real-life mystery, the Ratcliff Highway Murders, into this book, as well as other historical details and people.  It has always been one of the things I really liked about these books, the research and historical detail.  The plot was more of a police procedural-type mystery, with Sebastian going around investigating and interrogating a lot of people, there were an unusual amount of deaths in this one, and a plot twist I actually didn't see coming.  I did feel like Sebastian was going through the motions though, and I wasn't as invested in the story like I usually am.  Part of the problem is I felt like the author was setting up the book for future stories surrounding Sebastian's mother and Hero's father.  

What the Devil Knows was a solid historical mystery, but I don't think it was necessarily the best one of the series.  The characters were interesting as always, but I didn't really see a lot of development.  I did feel like this was a transitional book, a filler, to set up future plot lines.  The mystery itself was fascinating though, as the author uses a blend of true and invented stories to create a story that kept me guessing until the end, with plenty of twists and turns.  While you don't have to read the books in the series to understand this one, I do recommend you start from the beginning to get a sense of the underlying story lines that are being set up for future books and to understand some of the tensions between the characters.



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