Reviews by L. J. Roberts


C. S. HARRIS – Who Speaks for the Damned. Sebastian St. Cyr #15. Berkley, hardcover, April 2020; paperback, March 2021. Setting: 1814 London.

First Sentence: Alone and trying desperately not to be afraid, the child wandered the narrow, winding paths of the tea gardens.

   Nicholas Hayes, a son to the late Earl of Seaford, had been convicted of murder, transported to Botany Bay, and assumed dead. Instead, he returned to London and was murdered. An Asian child who had been with Hayes, finds the body and goes to Hayes’ former friend James Calhoun, valet to St. Cyr. After which, the child disappears. It is now up to St. Cyr to find the child and uncover the murderer.

   There is nothing better than a book that captivates your attention from the very beginning. One is introduced to several of the main and recurring characters, learns about their backgrounds, and is taken straight into the story.

Harris sets the story up beautifully, providing multiple motives and suspects. Nothing here is obvious. She also effectively conveys the fear felt by young Jai, alone in a foreign country. He is a character who touches the heart but also allows for an interesting look at China during this period. The historical information woven into the story is both informative and harshly factual. Harris makes no attempt to soften the image of this time and confirms that bigotry has always existed.

   Honorable characters have great appeal. When asked why Sebastian, a Viscount, after all, spends his time chasing murders, especially when the victims are despicable characters themselves, he responds: “Making certain a killer doesn’t get away with what he has done is an obligation we the living owe to the dead — no matter how unsavory we consider them to be.” … “Am I not my brother’s keeper?” …”And because I believe we are all connected, every living thing one to the other, so that I owe to each what I would owe to myself.” What a perfect definition of equal justice under the law.

   The relationship between Devlin and his wife Hero is so well done. The intimacy is neither gratuitous nor salacious, and dialogue is very natural. Harris does involve Hero in the investigation, but in a way that makes sense for a woman of her time and rank.

   An historical mystery set in 1814 London, Who Speaks for the Damned, the 15th book in this series, is well-plotted. It moves along at a good pace and presents twists at just the right points, although one might wish authors weren’t quite so predictable in their timing. That said, it is nice when one is surprised by a plot twist. The story grows with one revelation upon another. Rather than confusing, this adds to the intrigue of the story. The inclusion of information on the forensics of the time adds veracity and interest.

   Good dialogue makes all the difference, particularly when twinged with humor— “How precisely does one go about accosting a man in the middle of a ball in order to discuss the murder of someone who once ran off with his wife.” “I don’t know,” said Sebastian. “But I’ll think of something.”

   Who Speaks for the Damned is an excellent read. The mystery is solved with an ending that speaks to humanity and puts paid to all the ugliness caused by man. It draws one in from the start and keeps one engaged to the very end.

Rating: A plus