My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In spite of being the 11th book in the series, the Sebastian/Hero mysteries are not getting long in the tooth which I love. This one is a bit different from the rest of the series as we're not in London so that means several usual characters, Gibson, Jarvis etc aren't in this. Even Tom, Sebastian's tiger, has a very muted role.
Sebastian, Hero and their infant son, Simon, have taken a trip to the countryside where Jamie Knox grew up. They're there to give something of Jamie's to his grandmother following his death and of course to see if they can track down Sebastian's true father. Jamie had a sister who also looks just like him and Sebastian (as does a barkeep in town, so whoever dad was, he sure got around) but she's in no mood to help Sebastian.
Quickly a young woman dies. Emma Chance was an amazing artist doing something strange, traveling alone because even young widows like herself didn't do that in the early 1800s. Emma's death would have been written off as a suicide if not for the fact the young new lawkeeper in town knew Sebastian was there and knew his reputation.
As Sebastian (and to a lesser degree, Hero) investigates, he learns Emma is not all she seems. To make matters worse, Napoleon's brother, Lucien is in town and it is Lucien's son who finds the body. Was Emma a spy sent by Napoleon to keep an eye on Lucien? Was she a spy sent by Jarvis to do the same? Did Lucien kill her? Or is she simply on a quest that dovetails with Sebastian's own: to find her birth rite? These are all things Sebastian has to consider.
Worse, there have been other suicides by young women in the family way (and you don't even want to know what they did with suicides back then) and Sebastian and Hero begin to wonder were any of them really suicides or is there a killer on the loose using the typical small town notion of 'that sort of thing only happens in cities' to cover his tracks.
Sebastian and Hero both remain well rounded, engaging characters and I'm enjoying them even more now as a couple than I did in earlier books when Sebastian's first love was still haunting the pages and honestly kind of creeping me out. I'm glad that character is (for now) gone. I do hope, however, that his parentage will either be resolved soon or take a back seat because it's the sort of thing that can wear thin quickly. Now I have to wait for the next one. Sigh
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