What the Devil Knows (Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery)

Written by C.S. Harris
Review by K. M. Sandrick

Magistrate Sir Edwin Pym is found dead in 1814 in London’s East End, his head bashed and throat slit. Soon after, another magistrate, Nathan Cockerwell, is murdered in the same manner. The killings are eerily similar to the notorious 1811 Ratcliffe Highway Murders of a draper, his apprentice, wife, and 14-month-old son followed two weeks later by the deaths of a publican, his wife, and servant.

Believing the Pym and Cockerwell deaths are inextricably linked with the Ratcliffe Murders, Sebastian St. Cyr is faced with thorny questions. If the same perpetrator committed all murders, why the gap in time? If a copyist is involved, why is he killing again now? And what about the man thought to have been the Ratcliffe Murderer, found hanged in his Newgate Prison cell before the case was even brought before the court? Was he framed and garroted to keep secret the real motive behind the gruesome killings?

What the Devil Knows is the 16th in C.S. Harris’ best-selling St. Cyr murder mysteries. It drops readers into the seamy river district where gentlemen seek quick assignations in barely lit alleyways, ruffians protect their turf from outsiders and nosy meddlers, and publicans fall prey to graft and corruption.

Atop details from the actual Ratcliffe Murders, Harris layers new murders, tangents, and side plots. Grim details of city life, particularly for orphaned teens, are sharply delineated. Yet the plot drags and confuses: steps in the investigation often cover the same ground; connections between past and present are murky; assaults and confrontations seem gratuitous. Hints about the intriguing relationships between St. Cyr, his wife, and their parents at the highest levels of government and the monarchy nonetheless tantalize enough to warrant a look at other books in the series.