The death of a fiendish nobleman strikes close to home as Sebastian St. Cyr is tasked with finding the killer to save his young cousin from persecution in this riveting new historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Why Kill the Innocent....
When the handsome but dissolute young gentleman Lord Ashworth is found brutally murdered, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is called in by Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy to help catch the killer. Just seven months before, Sebastian had suspected Ashworth of aiding one of his longtime friends and companions in the kidnapping and murder of a string of vulnerable street children. But Sebastian was never able to prove Ashworth's complicity. Nor was he able to prevent his troubled, headstrong young niece Stephanie from entering into a disastrous marriage with the dangerous nobleman.
Stephanie has survived the difficult birth of twin sons. But Sebastian soon discovers that her marriage has quickly degenerated into a sham. Ashworth abandoned his pregnant bride at his father's Park Street mansion and has continued living an essentially bachelor existence. And mounting evidenceranging from a small bloody handprint to a woman's silk stockingsuggests that Ashworth's killer was a woman. Sebastian is tasked with unraveling the shocking nest of secrets surrounding Ashworth's life to keep Stephanie from being punished for his death.
About the Author
C. S. Harris is the national bestselling author of more than two dozen novels, including the Sebastian St. Cyr Mysteries; as C. S. Graham, a thriller series coauthored with former intelligence officer Steven Harris; and seven award-winning historical romances written under the name Candice Proctor. A respected scholar with a PhD in nineteenth-century Europe, she is also the author of a nonfiction historical study of the French Revolution. She lives with her husband in New Orleans and has two grown daughters.
Read an Excerpt
London: Friday, 1 April 1814
Bloodred and splayed wide as if in panic, the dried handprint stood out clearly against the white, freshly painted inside panel of the town house's front door.
Jenny Crutcher was crossing his lordship's grand black-and-white marble-tiled entrance hall, humming to herself, when she saw it. She drew up, one fist clenching around the handle of her broom as she glanced in dismay at the golden glow of the rising sun filtering in through the fanlight above the door. A housemaid in any normal gentleman's establishment would have been shocked by such a discovery. But Jenny had worked in Viscount Ashworth's Curzon Street residence for six years now. Little shocked her anymore.
She was a slight, underfed woman with a pinched face and dull, straight fair hair that combined to make her look older than her twenty-six years. Once not so long ago, folks had called her a pretty little thing. But Jenny didn't mind her fading looks too much. Fresh-faced young housemaids had a tendency to catch his lordship's eye, and Jenny had more than enough trouble in her life already. Frowning at the blood, she hurried off to fetch a bucket of water and a rag. She didn't have time for this; she'd been working since before dawn, and there was still so much to do before the master came down.
"Blast," she muttered when water splashed over the rim of the bucket as she set it down on the marble tiles. More work. It wasn't until she was on her hands and knees, wiping up the spilled water, that she noticed the blood on the door's handle. She cleaned that too, surprised to realize the door was unbarred. His lordship's aged butler, Mr. Fullerton, always made a big show of ceremoniously lowering the bar on the front door every morning. But the old man wasn't up yet.
In a normal household, it would also be the butler's responsibility to bar the door at night before retiring. But that task was often delegated to his lordship's valet for reasons Jenny understood only too well. Forgot something, did we, Digby? Jenny thought, allowing herself a faintly malicious smile. She was not fond of the nasty little valet.
Leaving the bucket of bloody water for later, she scurried off to work her way through the rooms of the first two floors, throwing open curtains, collecting dirty wine and brandy glasses, and straightening the disorder left from the night before. She worked in concert with the second housemaid, Alice, the two women dividing the tasks between them in a familiar routine they'd developed over the years. By the time they climbed the stairs to the floor where the Viscount kept his bedchamber, it was already past ten o'clock. Fortunately, his lordship was never up before noon, so they should still have plenty of time to sneak into his room, quietly make up the fire, leave fresh water, and be away before he stirred.
They'd almost reached the master's door before they realized it was standing ajar. The room beyond gaped dark and quiet.
"Reckon he's up already?" whispered Alice, hesitating.
Jenny shook her head. "Can't be. He didn't ring for Digby."
Alice shifted her grip on the heavy coal scuttle she carried. "So why's the door open?"
"A draft coulda pushed it." Yet even as she suggested it, Jenny was remembering the bloody handprint on the unbarred front door. Something tingled up her spine, and she clutched the water pitcher she carried more tightly to her chest. "Maybe we shouldn't go in there."
"We have to," said Alice. Nudging the door open wider, she took one step into the room.
Anthony Marcus Ledger, Viscount Ashworth, only son and heir of the Marquis of Lindley, lay sprawled naked on his back in the rumpled depths of his vast silk-hung bedstead. His eyes were open but sunken flat, his handsome young face ashen, his lips oddly purple in contrast. One did not need to look at the raw, hacked mess that had once been his chest to know he was dead.
"Ghastly sight," said Sir Henry Lovejoy, one of three stipendiary magistrates attached to Bow Street's famous Public Office. A small balding man with the appearance of a respectable merchant and the demeanor of a stern cleric, he was careful to stand well back from the gore-splattered bed. There'd once been a time when Lovejoy was indeed a merchant, and a moderately successful one at that. But the death of his beloved wife and daughter some thirteen years before had caused him to reevaluate everything from his religious beliefs to his purpose in life and devote his remaining days to public service.
Now pressing a clean white handkerchief to his lips, he let his horrified gaze drift from the blood-soaked fine linen sheets beneath his lordship's mutilated body to the sprayed arcs of blood that showed quite clearly against the champagne-colored silk of the bed's hangings. Silken red cords tied the dead man's widespread hands and feet to the bedstead's stout wooden posts. "I believe we can safely surmise that his lordship was killed here," said Lovejoy.
Beside him, a young constable with thin shoulders and a pockmarked face swallowed hard. "That's an awful lot o' blood, sir."
"It is, indeed."
The heavy curtains at the windows overlooking the street had been hastily yanked open, flooding the elegant bedchamber with the dazzling light of a fine spring morning. Tucking away his handkerchief, Lovejoy turned in a slow circle, taking in the new Aubusson carpet, the gleaming rosewood chests, the gilt-framed paintings of highbred hunters and racing hounds. To all appearances, Ashworth's life had been one of rare privilege and refinement. And while Lovejoy knew only too well that in this instance appearances were in some ways deceptive, the fact remained that the violent murder of the handsome young son of one of the wealthiest noblemen in the kingdom would both shock and terrify the rarefied world of the haut ton-and seriously rattle the palace.
Troubled by the thought, Lovejoy went to stand at the window. Curzon Street lay in that part of London known as Mayfair, home to the fashionable, the titled, the wealthy, and the powerful. There'd been no official announcement yet of his lordship's death, but word of ghastly murders always managed to spread quickly. A dozen or more murmuring gawkers had already gathered in the normally quiet street. Soon there would be more. Many more.
"No answer yet from Brook Street?" said Lovejoy, his gaze on the growing crowd below.
"Not yet, sir."
Lovejoy had already set half a dozen of his constables to searching the house and interviewing the dead man's servants. But he was waiting for someone else, someone to whom he had sent word as soon as news of Ashworth's death reached Bow Street: Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, only surviving son and heir of the Earl of Hendon. There'd been a time not so long ago when Devlin had been on the run for a murder he didn't commit, with Lovejoy determined to bring him in. But in the years since then, an unusual friendship had developed between the two men, an affinity based on profound mutual respect and a shared determination to see murderers brought to justice.
Yet that was not Lovejoy's sole reason for involving Devlin. For just seven months ago, the dissolute, dangerous man now lying dead in that blood-soaked bed had married Lord Devlin's beautiful young niece, Stephanie.
"Reckon 'e's really dead?" asked the boy in a tight voice as Sebastian guided his curricle and pair through the crowd gathered in front of Lord Ashworth's Curzon Street house. "I mean, really, really dead?"
Sebastian glanced back at the sharp-featured young groom, or tiger, who clung to the perch at the rear of the curricle. "There doesn't seem to be any doubt."
Tom nodded, his eyes haunted by a dark, painful memory. "I hope so."
Sebastian drew in close to the kerb. But for a moment he paused, his gaze on the boy's tense, troubled face. Ashworth hadn't been directly involved in the hours-long nightmare the boy had endured last September, but the nobleman's complicity was as significant as it was impossible to prove. "Are you all right, lad?"
Sebastian nodded, taking the boy at his word. "Walk them if I'm too long."
Tom scrambled forward to take the reins. "Aye, gov'nor."
Dropping to the pavement, Sebastian let his gaze drift over the town house's classical facade. The last time he'd been here, seven months before, there'd been subtle signs of neglect-the area steps unswept, the paint on the entrance door dull and peeling. Now, as one of the constables stationed to keep back the crowd leapt to open the door for him, Sebastian noted the gleaming fresh black paint, the newly repaired iron railing. Lord Ashworth's financial situation had obviously improved considerably since his marriage. But then, thought Sebastian as he followed a second constable up the town house's elegant staircase, that was precisely why Ashworth had finally agreed to wed and beget an heir-because his father, the Marquis of Lindley, had cut off his son's generous allowance and refused to reinstate it until he did.
Sir Henry Lovejoy was waiting for Sebastian at the top of the stairs, his habitually grave face even more somber than usual. "My apologies for sending such news with one of the lads rather than coming myself," he said with a bow.
"Understandable," said Sebastian as the two men turned toward the large chamber at the front of the house. From somewhere in the distance came the wail of a woman crying hysterically. "There's no doubt it's murder?"
"None at all, I'm afraid." Lovejoy stood back to allow him to enter the room first. "Look."
"Good God." Sebastian's step faltered on the threshold as he took in the gore-splattered bed and the naked, spread-eagled man who lay within it. The cloying smell of blood and death hung heavy in the air. "Who found him?"
"Two housemaids, shortly after ten this morning. The younger of the two-Alice, I believe is her name-has been weeping uncontrollably ever since."
"I'm surprised they're not both in hysterics after seeing this." Going to stand beside the bed, Sebastian let his gaze travel over the pallid, blood-streaked corpse of his niece's debauched husband. He'd been a good-looking man, Anthony Ledger, with even, sensuous features enhanced rather than marred by a thin scar high on one cheek. His eyes were a light gray, his honey-colored hair artfully disheveled. Like Sebastian, he'd been in his early thirties. A dedicated sportsman, he was tall and well toned, his shoulders broad, his abdomen hard.
His chest was a pulpy, ravaged horror.
As a cavalry officer for six long years, Sebastian had seen more men die-most of them horribly-than he could remember. Yet it didn't seem to make any difference; he typically still found the sight of sudden, violent death profoundly disturbing. Any man's death diminishes me, John Donne had written, because I am involved in mankind. But as he stared down at what was left of Anthony Ledger, Sebastian felt only relief.
Relief, and a vague, niggling fear he hoped desperately was misplaced.
"Lovely," said Sebastian, his eyes narrowing as he studied the multiple gaping wounds. Whoever killed Ashworth had struck him in the chest with a sharp blade over and over again, so many times that it was nearly impossible to distinguish one blow from the next. "What did the killer use? An ax?"
"It looks that way, doesn't it? We haven't found anything that might be the murder weapon yet, although my men are still searching the house. Perhaps an autopsy will give us a better idea of what we're looking for. I've sent for a shell to have the body transported to Paul Gibson."
"Good," said Sebastian. No one could read the secrets a murder victim had to tell better than the former army surgeon.
Lovejoy cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I am informed by his lordship's staff that your niece, Lady Ashworth, does not reside here."
"No, she doesn't," said Sebastian, his gaze drifting to where the dead man's boots, finely tailored coat, cravat, shirt, doeskin breeches, and small clothes lay strewn from the door to the bed as if they'd been stripped off in the frenzied heat of passion. "The house was in such a state of disrepair at the time of their marriage that Ashworth suggested she stay with his father and maiden aunt at Lindley House in Park Lane while the place was being refurbished."
Lovejoy cleared his throat again. "She's with child, yes?"
"She was. She was safely delivered of twin boys early last month."
"Ah," said Lovejoy, who could do sums as well as the next man. "It's certainly understandable that she should be reluctant to relocate at such a time."
Sebastian suspected that wasn't her only reason, but all he said was "What have you learned from Ashcroft's servants?"
"Not as much as we'd hoped, I'm afraid. It seems it was not unusual for his lordship to, er, entertain females in the evening. On such occasions, the servants would retire early, with only his lordship's valet-a gentleman's gentleman by the name of Edward Digby-waiting up to see to his needs."
"And what does Digby have to say about last night?"
"Unfortunately, we've been unable to locate the man."
Sebastian had crouched down to study the splotches of blood on the carpet beside the bed, but at that he looked up. "Perhaps he's our killer. What do you know of him?"
"I gather he's not precisely well liked by the other members of the staff. But no one seems to believe him capable of"-Lovejoy paused as if searching for the right word-"this."
"People can reach a breaking point and snap," said Sebastian. "Particularly when they work for a man as vicious as Ashworth."
Pushing to his feet, Sebastian squinted up at the blood-splattered silk-lined tester that arched over the bed. "Jesus," he said softly. "Whoever did this must have been covered in blood."
Lovejoy nodded. "There's blood on the inside handle of the bedroom door and another streak smeared along its frame. I'm told there was also blood downstairs on the door to the street, but one of the housemaids unfortunately washed it off before the body was discovered."
Sebastian nodded toward the pale-figured carpet. "Interesting there are no bloody footprints leading back to the door. How the devil do you hack a man to death and keep from tracking his blood all over the place?"
A gleam of white peeking out from beneath the bed caught his eye, and he reached to pick up what turned out to be a woman's white silk stocking, gossamer fine and quite new. He held it up to the morning light streaming in the window. "Any idea as to the identity of the woman Ashworth was entertaining last night?"
Reading Group Guide
Who Slays the Wicked
Questions for Discussion
1. What do Sebastian St. Cyr’s background as a cavalry captain and his friendship with Irish surgeon Paul Gibson tell us about the Viscount?
2. Sebastian’s hunt for Ashworth’s killer takes place against the background of the ending of the Napoléonic Wars and the Allied Sovereigns’ visit to London. How do these historical events play a part in the story?
3. What do the hardships faced by the Earl’s granddaughter Stephanie, the shopkeeper’s assistant Giselle Blanchette, child prostitute Sissy Jordan, and housemaid Jenny Crutcher tell us about the legal position of women in early nineteenth-century Britain?
4. Who Slays the Wicked reveals fascinating details about the behind-the-scenes workings of Regency London’s sanitation. Discuss.
5. Young Welsh architect Russell Firth is a brilliant but lowborn man trying to get ahead in Regency Britain. What does his life—and the challenges he faces—tell us about the times? About the character?
6. Nineteenth-century shopkeepers and tradesmen like Lawrence McCay had little hope of redress when cheated by wealthy, powerful men like Lord Ashworth. How have things changed? How are things still the same?
7. The title of this book, Who Slays the Wicked, comes from a biblical verse. How does it resonate with the killing of Lord Ashworth? Why do you think the author chose it?
8. Sebastian’s nemesis Charles, Lord Jarvis, is the King’s ruthless, powerful cousin and Hero’s father. How does that impact Sebastian’s quest to catch this killer?
9. Many people in this book are hiding dangerous secrets. How do their secrets—and their reasons for keeping them—differ? How are they the same?
10. The opulent lifestyles of wealthy royals and aristocrats such as the Prince Regent and the Marquis of Lindley stand in stark contrast to the wretched poverty of crossing sweeps Waldo Jones and Ben King, child prostitute Sissy Jordan, and pure finder Gussie Spilsby. Discuss.
11. Who do you think killed Sir Felix Paige? Why?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Have read all 14 books, very suspenseful loved the series... Need more on this series!
Another chapter in the life of Hero and Sebastian. The interviews with the poor are interesting and nicely woven into the story.
Love New Orleanian C. S. Harris!
Sebastian St. Cyr warned his niece Stephanie about marrying the dissolute Lord Ashworth; she did so anyway. So when his body is found, Sebastian has a real fear that his niece either killed him or will be blamed for it. We follow the Viscount through the back alleys and ballrooms of London 1814 as he tries to discover the killer. The setting and history are well researched and depicted. The characters he meets, and often beats, along the way are colorful and intriguing. This is an exceptional mystery series set in an era where there is no CSI, no DNA and no Internet available to the hunters of killers. The plot is intricate and fair. By fair, I mean, the reader doesn’t feel blindsided or cheated by the ultimate discovery of who-dun-it. The author has woven the story nicely; if we didn’t figure it out, we weren’t parsing the clues. I would like to have seen more of Hero. Such a strong character could command her own series! Overall, this is a welcome addition to this exciting series!
Who Slays the Wicked (Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery Book 14) by C.S. Harris is Historical Mystery Thriller Fiction at it’s best. Each book in the series has a mystery, but the themes and characters change with each book. The recurring characters in this series are constantly evolving because of various influences in their lives. Every character becomes known to the reader as the story and mysteries unfold. Well researched history is woven into every book. I am anxiously awaiting the next book in the St. Cyr Series.
Sebastian St. Cyr is called in to investigate a murder. The murder of a man that very few liked and most are happy that he is dead. Of course, that leads to many suspects, many false leads, and a lot of clues that seem to lead to dead ends. I tried to follow the clues and come up with the who done it before I reached the end, I had so many guesses, but I was so wrong. I was so far off the right path. I enjoyed every wrong turn that I took. C.S Harris knows exactly how to write a historical mystery that pulls the reader in, leads them through history, and takes them on a tour of the city. The settings come to life, the people become real, and the story is not just something to read it is something that you cannot put down. I have become a fan of the Sebastian St. Cyr series after only reading this one and the one prior to this.
Choosing the word "enthralled" to describe my feelings toward this historical mystery - especially since it's full of murder, mayhem and some very nasty people - might seem a bit strange, but that's exactly how I felt from the first page to the last. It's also my first of 14 books in this series, so another prime emotion I felt when I finished is sadness that I hadn't read the predecessors. What an attention-holding, well-written book! It's also well-researched, and that adds substantially to the "flavor." Set in London circa 1814, the story is greatly enhanced by descriptions of the city, what was happening elsewhere in the world (Paris had just sent Napoleon packing, for instance) and terminology appropriate to the time. The characters spoke and acted the way I'd expect from that time period - although I must say that Sebastian St. Cyr and his wife, Hero, are far less stodgy than their family and friends (which only made me like them all the more). As this one begins, Sebastian is called in to help find out who murdered and pretty thoroughly mutilated Lord Ashworth, a man who not long ago married Sebastian's young niece Stephanie. Ashworth has a long history of abusing anyone who tickles his fancy (or refuses to) - most notably children and young ladies - so while no one owns up to the murder, neither does anyone express sorrow that he bit the dust. That widespread attitude, of course, makes the suspect pool grow as each new clue is revealed; the consensus, though, is that the killer is female (with Stephanie, who recently gave birth to twins but is estranged from Ashworth, at the top of the list). Sebastian desperately hopes to prove her innocence, but first he must convince himself. Complicating matters is that other dead bodies are turning up, thought to be somehow connected to Ashworth's murder. Besides that, a Russian delegation, including a snobbish high-ranking princess, is in town for what may be nefarious purposes - and before long, entanglements with Ashworth are unearthed and members of their entourage are added to the suspects' list as well. The more Sebastian digs in, the more it becomes clear that the hole he's creating may be the perfect size for his own grave. This story stands alone well, although there were a few allusions to people and events that no doubt would be better understood by those who read previous books. Also, the fact that some of the characters were called by different names or titles here and there was a bit confusing to me at times(Sebastian is also known as Viscount Devlin, for example). But honestly, none of that really got in the way. I found this book absolutely delightful - and I thank the publisher, via NetGalley, for the opportunity to read and review an advance copy.
Yet another Sebastian St. Cyr book that engrossed me to the point that I couldn’t put it down. Once I started reading, I didn’t stop until the last word on the last page was finished – at about 5 AM. My kidneys are grateful that there won’t be another new release in the series for several more months. This is a wonderful series and if you haven’t read the prior books, you really should. Sebastian’s life has taken a lot of twists and turns and I’m sure there are many more to come. As always, the writing is excellent, the research is right-on-the-money, the plot is tightly woven and well executed, and you won’t know who the villain is until the very end! Way to go! Where the Dead Lie, book 12, was a chilling case where one of the villains of the piece managed to escape justice. That really bothered me even though I knew the author would eventually get around to taking care of him. While justice doesn’t get Anthony Marcus Ledger, Viscount Ashworth, someone does. On April Fools Day, 1814, two maids in Anthony’s household discover his bloody, mutilated body tied with red silk cords to the four bedposts. Sir Henry Lovejoy, one of three magistrates attached to Bow Street’s Public Office always asks for Sebastian St Cyr’s assistance in cases involving the aristocracy. As a Viscount and heir to an Earl, Sebastian has access to circles that the Bow Street investigators wouldn’t be allowed into. Sir Henry will definitely need Sebastian for this one – the victim is not only a Viscount, but he is also heir to a Marquis – a very rich and powerful Marquis. Then you add in Russian royalty and – well – sometimes even Sebastian can’t get access. Sebastian was thoroughly convinced that Anthony took an active part in the heinous crimes he had investigated months earlier, but he had no solid proof. He had been working all of those months since to find the proof he needed. Now, the man is dead and Sebastian is very, very afraid that his niece may have done the deed. When he interviews her, she won’t be honest with him. Then, other bodies associated with the case begin to show up. Leads take Sebastian to the visiting Russian royalty, his niece, his niece’s lover, a tarot card reader, a for-hire assassin, and almost anybody who has ever met Anthony. Sebastian is led on a merry chase around London and the more he learns about Anthony, the sicker Sebastian becomes. The world is definitely a better place without Anthony in it – and Sebastian might almost have let things go if Anthony was the only victim. But those other victims – they were innocent and didn’t deserve to die just because they knew something that might help catch the murderer. I can highly recommend this fast-paced, action-packed, well-written book.
This book was really interesting to read because the characters went in many different directions similar to the writing style of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. At first, I thought the book was mass confusing and difficult to follow along but as the story picked up and you got more information of the murder and the background of Sir Ashworth then it got to be really enticing. Mystery stories such as this are very popular with our patrons and this will sure to fly off the shelves. We will definitely consider adding this title to our Historical Fiction/Mystery collection at our library. That is why we give this book 5 stars.