by C. S. Harris
In this, the 13th Sebastian St. Cyr book, a beautiful musician — Jane Ambrose — is found dead in the snow in an impoverished London neighborhood. Hero, Sebastian’s wife, discovers the body and recognizes instantly that this is a sensitive situation.
Jane Ambrose teaches piano to 18-year-old Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent and heir to the throne of England when her grandfather King George III and father die.
The palace, in the thick of planning a strategic betrothal for Charlotte, quickly shuts down investigation of Jane’s death. The death is chalked up to a tragic accident. With London suffering through a siege of snow and freezing temperatures, the explanation is credible.
But Hero, Sebastian and Alexi Sauvage, a French-trained doctor and lover of Sebastian’s friend Dr. Paul Gibson, know better. Hero saw the blow to the head Jane sustained. All three observers noted the lack of blood around the body. Alexi did a brief examination of the body before representatives of the palace took it away. She discovered that Jane had multiple bruises and appeared to have been raped days before her death.
The more Sebastian digs, the more poignant Jane Ambrose’s short life becomes. A brilliant pianist and composer, Jane had to step out of the limelight when she reached marriageable age. Her twin brother James went on to have the brilliant musical career denied to her. James died young of consumption. Her two sons had also died within the past several years. Her husband Edward, a composer of popular operas, treated her harshly. She was lonely and isolated.
Teaching children piano put her near the great and powerful, including international financier Nathan Rothschild, Princess Charlotte, her mother Princess Caroline, reform-minded politicians and their assorted spies. The list of who might have wanted Jane Ambrose silenced and out of the way grows as the book proceeds. Ultimately, the killer turns out to be close to home and heart.
As always, author C.S. Harris dishes out a generous helping of history. January 1814 was the third coldest month recorded for London. The River Thames froze, allowing the frost fair (the last ever held) that provides a charming backdrop to this mystery. The Prince Regent — in the third year of his regency in 1814 and six years from becoming King George IV — was increasingly unpopular because of his lavish spending and the taxes required to fund the War of 1812 against the Americans and the Napoleonic War on the Continent. He battled and humiliated his wife Princess Caroline from their 1795 wedding to her 1821 death. He was jealous of his daughter’s popularity and kept her isolated as long as he could.
One of the delicious parts of the early books in this series where the clues dropped about Sebastian’s biological father. A few hints are dropped in this book, but not enough to fuel the backstory. This is a complaint I had about the last St. Cyr mystery as well.
You can learn more about the author and earlier books here.