First Sentence: It was the fly that got to him.
Sebastian St. Cyr, his wife Hero, and infant son, Devlin, have travelled to Ayleswick-on-Teme in order to fulfill a promise to St. Cyr's half-brother, and to find out more about his own background. The village’s inexperienced magistrate, having heard of St. Cyr, asks his help in investigating the supposed suicide of a young woman visiting their town. However, it becomes apparent that the suicide was murder, and the woman was not who she said. Was she associated with village resident Lucien Bonaparte, brother-in-law to Napoleon?
Harris is such a wonderfully visual writer—“A spry middle-aged chambermaid with a leprechaun’s face and wild iron gray hair imperfectly contained by a mobcap opened the door and bobbed a quick curtsey.” She takes you into the period and places you in the location—“The evening, as the sun slipped toward the western hills and the sky faded from a hard blue to a pink-tinged aquamarine. The air smelled fresh and clean, a cool breeze rippled through the long grass, and a hawk circled effortlessly overhead.”
Harris has a remarkable way of humanizing a location and making us wish to be a part of it—“I was sitting here thinking about all the generations of men and women who’ve walked these same lanes, who plowed the same fields century after century and listened to the same church bells toll the hours of their lives, and then buried their dead in the same churchyard.” This may be particularly poignant for those of us who have lived transitory lives. At the same time, she reminds us—“most people’s capacity for evil is infinitely greater than we’d like to believe.”
One of the most wonderful things about reading historical mysteries is learning new things in a way that isn’t the author trying to impress upon you how much research they’d done. Instead, Harris incorporates the information seamlessly into the context of the story. Among other things, Harris not only tells us about the Enclosure Act, but clearly illustrates the devastating impact it had on the lives of the people.
The pacing is very well done. Although the chapters are quite short, the story has an excellent flow that keeping one turning the pages, sometimes way past when one should have been asleep. Beyond solving the crime, the secondary thread of Devlin tracing his past is engrossing, well done, and increasingly complex.
Devlin and Hero are refreshing in that although it is Devlin who does the principal investigation, Hero does become involved in ways that are completely appropriate to her position and the period. That is especially appreciated by those of us who value seeing the period accurately represented. There are a lot of characters, however; so a cast of characters would have been helpful.
“When Falcons Fall" is wonderfully intricate with plot twists that surprise. The characters are very well done, and the history woven in beautifully.
WHEN FALCONS FALL (Hist Mys-Sebastian St. Cyr-England-1813) – VG
Harris, C.S. – 11th in series
Obsidian, March 2016