Desert Isle Keeper
When Falcons Fall
It was the fly that got to him.
In the misty light of early morning, the dead woman looked as if she might be sleeping, her dusky lashes resting against cheeks of pale eggshell, her lips faintly parted. She lay at the edge of a clover-strewn meadow near the river, the back of her head nestled against a mossy log, her slim hands folded at the high waist of her fashionable dove gray mourning gown.
Then that fly came crawling out of her mouth.
It has been my distinct pleasure to read C.S. Harris’s St. Cyr series right from the first book, and my interest in the long series remains undiminished.
Ms. Harris does ominous scene-setting marvelously well, drawing you into the mystery from the first page and deeply immersing readers in both the crime and in the world of Regency England. While her plotting is intricate, it’s her characterizations that are the chief draw for me. Her protagonist, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is superbly detailed. Readers who’ve been following along with the series can appreciate how complicated he is; however, you can pick up any of the books in the series and still connect with the complexity of his character.
The story of When Falcons Fall opens with Sebastian traveling to Ayleswick-on-Tene, a small village in Shropshire, with his wife, Hero, and their small son, Simon. His reason for making the journey there is two-fold. One is to deliver a gift from a man named Jamie Knox (from the previous book Who Buries the Dead) to his grandmother and, perhaps, learn more from her about the uncanny resemblance between him and Knox. The second reason is to uncover the mysterious past of the ancient necklace that was bequeathed to him by his mother.
Before Sebastian can embark on his two tasks, a girl turns up dead in the water meadow on the banks of the river Tene. And he finds himself drawn, almost against his will, to securing justice for her.
He rested one forearm on his thigh as he felt a slow, familiar anger begin to build within him. For a beautiful young widow to be so overcome by a vortex of grief, desperation, or guilt as to take her own life was tragic. But for someone to steal that life away without her consent was an abomination.
In the days following the girl’s murder (and other murders following it), Sebastian interviews various upstanding citizens of the two grand estates and the surrounding villages in that part of Shropshire. He also has to travel as far away as Herefordshire following clues. His title allows him entrée to all strata of society, from lowly millers’ wives to earls. Something about the way he approaches people with facts in hand and an understanding attitude causes them to open up to him.
And in all of his peregrinations, he remains assiduously devoted to the history and fate of the victims. One thing I really like about Sebastian is his self-imposed dedication to his cause without allowing a nobleman’s active social life to distract him. The other thing I like about Sebastian’s detecting is his cautious unexcitable approach to deduction. He doesn’t jump to conclusions or go off half-cocked. That is not to say that he doesn’t allow for reasonable leap-of-faith conclusions; it’s the digging up of small, small details that lays the groundwork for those conclusions.
It is one of my interests to note how characters negotiate marriages, comparing historical marriages as written by writers such as Austen, Gaskell, Sayers, and so on, with the approach of modern writers writing historicals. This is where Ms. Harris’ talent shines. Sebastian and his wife are truly people set in their era with attitudes that are cogent with their times. What sets their relationship apart from most historical romances we see is that there isn’t a fatuous, besotted, dependent connection between them. Sebastian and Hero are both deeply and committedly in love with each other, but it takes second place to the respect they have for each other. And they negotiate their marriage from that mature aspect of their connection.
This is their love: “Sebastian loved both mother and child with a passionate tenderness that awed, humbled, and terrified him.”
This is their marriage: “He looked over at her. ‘You’re working?’ It was one of the things she loved about him, that he respected the work she did. That he respected her – her mind, her talents, her opinions.”
I enjoy reading historicals where the writer is clearly writing from a place of authority, enabling me to learn some new aspect(s) of history. In this book, Ms. Harris explains the Enclosure Acts of the 1700s and 1800s, the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII, certain procedures of English Common Law, such as inquests, deodands (chattel involved in a death), and felo de se (suicide), the fate of chance (bastard) children and so on. It’s a quirk of mine to note whenever Napoléon’s name is spelled correctly.
All in all, When Falcons Fall is one of the best St. Cyr stories in a long line of great Regency mysteries by C.S. Harris. If you’ve never read one of these before, this could be a good place to start.