Set in Regency England, the latest Sebastian St. Cyr mystery seethes with the political chaos of a country besieged on every side, most troubling the threat of a war with the United States. Mad King George drifts in and out of rationality; Napoleon engineers the invasion of Russia, his broad shadow swallowing post-Revolutionary France; and various political factions juggle for advantage whichever direction fate might point, gathering allies of making mischief with enemies. Ex-spy St. Cyr moves easily in this milieu of power-brokers, ambassadors and elites who decide the direction of a nation and who shall profit. There are plenty of spies to go around - foreign agents seeking information, that critical bit of knowledge that may broker a profit or create any ally from a former foe.
The political machinations are complicated, a brewing storm of special interests when an employee of the Foreign Office dies unexpectedly in his sleep. Because Alexander Ross is a young man, Dr. Paul Gibson is anxious to obtain his cadaver for medical research, a feat easily accomplished thanks to a network of grave-robbers. Gibson hopes to learn more about the functioning of the human heart, but careful investigation reveals a deep wound from a stiletto that puts paid the original assumption: ďYou didnít die of a defective heart. You were murdered.Ē St. Cyr takes on the role of detective, moving through the circles frequented by Ross, an employee of the powerful Hyde Foley of the Foreign Office.
While it is clear that the solution to Rossís murder will be found in the political arena, once the action begins in this tale, it is relentless. St. Cyr deliberately stirs a hornetís nest as he questions, pokes and prods until the excuses of certain powerful men begin to crack. Given the diverse characters involved in one way or another with Alexander Ross, there is little doubt the motive is political, but the author adds a colorful blend of folks to flesh out the rather predictable deceits of the major players - an exotic ambassadorís exotic wife-cum-spy, and St. Cyrís fiancť, Hero Jarvis, daughter of his nemesis. With the wedding scheduled mere days from the murder, Sebastian is barely able to uncover the killer in time to walk down the aisle with his bride.
Romance lurks around the edges of an essentially political thriller: Sebastianís doomed romance with another; his father, the Earl of Hendonís, unforgivable betrayal; even the decision to propose to Hero, who is pregnant. Fiercely independent, it has never been Heroís intention to marry, but reason prevails in a society that will shame a child born out of wedlock. When St. Cyr proposes, Hero accepts. As intrepid as her intended, Hero has no scruples about joining in the investigation, nor is she a helpless female. Though the plot isnít terribly innovative or exciting, the union of Sebastian St. Cyr and Hero Jarvis may be exactly what the series needs to resuscitate its flagging energy. Certainly, St. Cyr has met his match.