Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, takes on his 11th case when he and his wife investigate an apparent suicide.
Emma Chance was a young widow who came to the quiet town of Ayleswick-on-Teme to sketch the local buildings. But when the son of Lucien Bonaparte, younger brother of the emperor, discovers Emma’s body next to an empty bottle of laudanum, local magistrate Archibald Rawlins calls in Devlin. Rawlins is young and new to his position, and he knows that Devlin, who’s in the neighborhood with his wife, Hero, has worked with Bow Street before (Who Buries the Dead, 2015, etc.). Devlin establishes that the young woman was smothered to death, but before he can figure out who did the deed, the murder of a government agent further complicates the case. While Devlin is investigating the two killings, he’s also trying to solve the mystery of his own life by discovering who his father was. He passes as the son and heir of the Earl of Hendon, but he knows he’s the issue of his mother’s affair with another man. His search gives him something in common with Emma, who came to Ayleswick to learn about her own parentage. And her fate is eerily similar to that of two other young women who supposedly killed themselves. Devlin doesn’t rule out the suspicious presence of Lucien Bonaparte, supposedly estranged from his more famous brother and a houseguest of the gracious Lady Seaton, whose son had fallen in love with Emma. While Hero is researching the devastating effects of the loss of the local communal land, she helps Devlin with his investigation, even at her own peril. A long-ago fire, a house party that led to tragedy, a missing sketchbook, a quotation from Hamlet ripped from the book of the parish vicar, and the sinister presence of a gibbet further entangle the couple and complicate Devlin’s personal quest.
Another complex, well-researched tale shows that the protagonist and his progressive wife don’t suffer the boredom of everyday domesticity.