Friday, November 27, 2009

A Tale of Two Sisters Booksigning

Steve and I will be doing a booksigning this Saturday afternoon, November 28th, at the Tale of Two Sisters Bookstore, at 214 Lee Lane in Covington, Louisiana, from 2-4 pm. The bookshop is a new venture by a friend of ours, Kathy Spiess. So if any of you are in the area, it would be nice to see you there.

I trust all had a pleasant Thanksgiving. We had a relaxing day with both my daughters, my mom, and one of my daughter's friends from med school who couldn't go back to Michigan for the holidays. It was a lot of fun.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Planting Pablo’s Oak

Pablo is gone now. But before he died, he planted an acorn that has since grown into a small tree. Last weekend, Steve and I took Pablo’s oak up the lake as a memorial to a fondly remembered friend.

So who was Pablo? Here he is:

No, not the person; that’s Ben, a great guy who gave up part of his 2005 Christmas vacation to come down from Kentucky and help us rebuild after Katrina. Pablo is the squirrel. He brightened our lives through all the dark, heartbreaking months we were struggling to recover from the hurricane.

Katrina’s combination of wind and flood decimated the neighborhood’s squirrel population. The sole survivor was Pablo, a rather small male with the scraggliest tail I’ve ever seen on a squirrel. He was so lonely—and hungry—that he adopted us. Every morning when I’d pull into the driveway to begin another day’s work on our devastated house, he’d come pelting down the walk, chattering happily. There you are, there you are. Launching into a flying leap, he’d land on my shoulder. (He did that once to the UPS guy, who freaked out.)

We kept Pablo supplied with nuts, and in return he made us laugh and helped us to remember what is important in life and what isn’t. After about eight months, a new squirrel appeared, young and plump and female. Together, she and Pablo set to work rebuilding the neighborhood squirrel population. Yet even after he had his own kind again, Pablo stayed our friend.

By the time we moved back into our house, we could tell he was aging. He could no longer make the great leap from the pavement to our shoulders, but would have to climb the brick posts or a tree and chatter for us to come close enough that he could jump. And then one day he came no more, and we knew Pablo was gone.

But he left my yard seeded with lots of little nut trees—pecans and oaks and walnuts. The little oak I found growing in my hanging bougainvillea—one of Pablo’s favorite spots—made me laugh so much that I carefully separated it out and potted it up. I’ve nursed it along for several years now. We selected a spot down by the back fence of our lake house, and last weekend we planted it.

There are lots of squirrels up at the lake. Hopefully, in time, their descendents will enjoy the acorns from Pablo’s oak. And every time we see it, we’ll be reminded of the little friend who helped us through one of the darkest periods of our lives.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sneak Peek, Part Two

It's hard to get back to work after such a totally relaxing break. We had a wonderful time up at the lake, touring plantations and planting climbing roses and honeysuckle around the house. Even the weather cooperated, with lovely clear blue skies and daytime temperatures in the 70s. Bliss.

Now, as promised, here is the beginning of the second chapter of Where Shadows Dance. (And my apologies to everyone I made worry that I was about to kill off Gibson!)


The first rays of the rising sun caught the heavy mist off the river and turned it into shimmering wisps of gold and pink that hugged the soot-stained chimneys, church spires, and rooftops of the city. Standing beside his bedroom window, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, cradled a glass of brandy in one hand. Behind him lay the tangled, abandoned ruin of his bed. He had not slept.

He was a tall man, leanly built. Not yet thirty years of age, he had dark hair and strange yellow eyes with an unnatural ability to see clearly at great distances or at night, when the world was reduced for most men to vague shadows of gray. Now, as the world outside the window brightened, he brought the brandy to his lips only to hesitate and set it aside untasted.

There were times when memories of the past tormented his sleep and drove him from his bed, times when his dreams echoed with the crash of cannonballs and the screams of mangled men, when the cloying scent of death haunted him and would not go away. But not this night. This night, he was troubled more by the present than the past. By a life-altering truth revealed too late and a future he did not want but was honor bound to embrace.

He reached again for his brandy, only to pause as the sound of frantic knocking reverberated though the house. Jerking up the sash, he leaned out, the cool air of morning biting his bare flesh as he shouted down at the figure on the steps below, “What the bloody hell do you want?”

The man’s head fell back, revealing familiar features. “That you, Devlin?”

“Gibson?” Sebastian was suddenly, painfully sober. “I’ll be right down.”

Pausing only to throw on a silk dressing gown, he hurried downstairs to find his majordomo, Morey, dressed in a paisley gown of astonishingly lurid reds and blues and clutching a flickering candle that tipped dangerously as he worked at drawing back the bolts on the front door.

“Go back to bed, Morey,” said Sebastian. “I’ll deal with this.”

“Yes, my lord.” A former gunnery sergeant, the majordomo gave a dignified bow and withdrew.

Sebastian yanked open the front door. His friend practically fell into the marble-floored entrance hall. “What the devil’s happened, Gibson? What is it?”

Gibson leaned against the wall. He was breathing heavily, his normally jaunty face haggard and streaked with sweat. From the looks of things, he hadn’t been able to find a hackney and had simply hurried the distance from the Tower to Mayfair on foot—not an easy journey for a man with a wooden leg.

He swallowed hard and said, “I have a wee bit of a problem.”

* * *

Sebastian stared down at the pale body stretched out on his friend’s granite slab and tried to avoid breathing too deeply.
The sun was up by now. The wind had blown away the clouds and the last of the mist to leave the sky scrubbed blue and empty. Already, the day promised to be warm. From the corpse before him rose a sickly-sweet odor of decay.

“You know,” said Sebastian, rubbing his nose, “if you’d left the man in his grave where he belonged, you wouldn’t have a problem.”

Gibson stood on the far side of the table, his arms folded at his chest. “It’s a little late now.”

Sebastian grunted. To some, they might seem unlikely friends, this Earl’s heir and the Irish surgeon with a passion for unraveling the secrets of the human body. But there had been a time when both had worn the King’s colors, when they’d fought together from the West Indies and Italy to the mountains of Portugal. Theirs was a friendship forged in all the horrors of blood and mud and looming death. Now, they shared a dedication to truth and a passionate anger at the wanton, selfish destruction of one human being by another.

Gibson scrubbed a hand across his lower face. “It’s not like I can walk into Bow Street and say, ‘By the way, mates, I thought you might be interested to know that I bought a body filched from St. George’s Churchyard last night. Yes, I know it’s illegal, but here’s the thing: it appears this gentleman whose friends all think died in his sleep was actually murdered.’ ”

Sebastian huffed a soft laugh. “Not if you value your life.”

The authorities tended to turn a blind eye to the activities of body snatchers, unless they were caught redhanded. But the inhabitants of London were considerably less sanguine about the unauthorized dissection of their nearest and dearest. When word spread of a body snatching, hordes of hysterical relatives had a nasty habit of descending on the city’s churchyards to dig up the remains of their loved ones. Since they frequently discovered only empty coffins and torn grave clothes, the resultant mobs then turned their fury on the city’s hospitals and the homes of known anatomists, smashing and burning, and savaging any medical men unlucky enough to fall into their clutches.

Gibson was well known as an anatomist.

Sebastian said, “Perhaps Jumpin’ Jack dug up the wrong body.”

Gibson shook his head. “I plan to check the rolls of mortality later today to make certain, but my money’s on Jumpin’ Jack. If he says this is Benjamin Knox, then this is Benjamin Knox.”

Sebastian walked around the table, his gaze on the pale corpse.

Gibson said, “Do you recognize him?”

“No. But then, to my knowledge I’ve never met anyone named Benjamin Knox.”

“I’m told he had rooms in St. James’s Street, above the Je Reviens Coffeehouse.”

St. James’s was a popular locale for young gentleman. “Who told you he died of a defective heart?”

“A colleague of mine at St. Thomas’s—Dr. Anthony Cooper. He was called in to examine the body. Swore there were no signs of any violence or illness; the man was simply lying dead in his bed when his valet came to rouse him that morning. Cooper was convinced he must have had a weak heart. That’s why I was so anxious to dissect the body—to observe whatever malformation or damage might be present.”

Sebastian hunkered down to study the telltale slit at the base of the man’s skull. “Your Dr. Cooper obviously didn’t think to look at the back of his patient’s neck.”

“Obviously not. But surely there would have been traces of blood on the pillow and sheets?”

“If Mr. Knox were killed in his bed, yes. I suspect he was not.” Sebastian straightened and went to stand in the open doorway overlooking the unkempt garden that stretched from the stone outbuilding to the surgery beyond.

Gibson came to stand beside him. After a moment, the Irishman said, “Looks like a professional’s work, doesn’t it?”

“It does.”

“I can’t just pretend I didn’t see this.”

Sebastian blew out a long breath. “It’s not going to be easy, investigating a murder no one knows occurred.”

“But you’ll do it?”

Sebastian glanced back at the pallid corpse on Gibson’s dissection table. The man looked to be much the same age as Sebastian, and he found himself wondering if Knox had left a wife and children to mourn him. A mother? Perhaps a father. He should have had decades of rewarding life ahead of him. Instead he was reduced to this, a murdered cadaver on a surgeon’s slab. And Sebastian knew a deep and abiding fury directed toward whoever had brought Knox to this end.

“I’ll do it.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Taking a Break


Steve and I are taking off for a much-needed four day weekend. My sister is in town to take care of my mother while we're away, so this will be the first "real" break we've had in years. See y'all next week!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Shadow Teaser


One of the things I've been doing this past week is preparing the "teaser" chapter for Where Shadows Dance that will go in the back of next summer's paperback reprint edition of What Remains of Heaven. So I thought I'd give y'all a "pre-sneak peek". Here's chapter one, which introduces the murder victim; chapter two follows next week.

Wednesday, 22 July 1812

A cool wind gusted up, rattling the branches of the trees overhead and bringing with it the unmistakable clatter of wooden wheels approaching over cobblestones. Standing just outside the open gate to the alley, Paul Gibson doused his lantern, his eyes straining as he peered into the fog-swirled darkness. Thick clouds bunched overhead, obscuring the moon and stars and promising more rain. He could see nothing but the high, rough stone walls of the yards around him and the refuse-choked mud of the lane that curved away into the mist.

A dog barked somewhere in the night. In spite of himself, Gibson shivered. It was a dirty business, this. But until the government revised its laws on human dissection, anatomists like Gibson could either resign themselves to ignorance or meet the resurrection men in the darkest hours before dawn.

Paul Gibson was not fond of ignorance.

He was a slim, dark-haired man of medium height, Irish born and in his thirty-second year. Trained as a surgeon, he’d honed his skills on the battlefields of Europe until a French cannonball shattered the lower part of one leg and left him with a weakness for the sweet relief to be found in poppies. Now he divided his time between sharing his knowledge of anatomy at hospitals like St. Thomas and St. Bartholomew’s, and working from his small surgery here, at the base of Tower Hill.

The dog barked again, followed this time by a man’s low curse. A two-wheeled cart loomed out of the mist, the raw-boned mule between the poles snorting and jibing at the bit when the driver drew up with a gutteral, “Whoa there, ye bloomin’ idiot. Where ye think yer goin’? We got one more delivery t’ make before ye can head home to yer barn.”

A tall, skeletally thin man in striped trousers and a natty coat jumped from the cart and tipped his top hat in a flourishing bow. As he straightened, a waft of gin underlain with the sweet scent of decay carried on the wind. “We got him fer ye, doctor,” said Jumpin’ Jack Cockran with a broad wink. “Mind ye, he’s not as fresh as I like me merchandize to be, but ye did say ye wanted this particular gentleman.”

Gibson peered over the cart’s side at the bulky, man-sized burlap sack that lay within. Another name for the resurrection men was the sack’em up boys. “You’re certain you’ve got the right one?”

“It’s him, all right.” Cockran motioned at the sturdy lad who accompanied him. “Grab the other end there, Ben.”

Grunting softly, the two men slung the burlap-wrapped merchandise off the back of the cart. It landed heavily in the rank grass beside the gate.

“Careful,” said Gibson.

Cockran grinned, displaying long, tobacco-stained teeth. “I can guarantee he didn’t feel a thing, doctor.”

Hefting the heavy sack between them, the two men carried the merchandise into the stone outbuilding at the base of Gibson’s overgrown garden and heaved it up onto the granite slab table that stood in the center of the room. Working quickly, they peeled away the mud-encrusted sack to reveal the limp body of a young man, his dark hair fashionably cut, his hands soft and well-manicured, as befitted a gentleman. His pale, naked flesh was liberally streaked with dirt, for the body snatchers had stripped off his shroud and grave clothes and stuffed them back into his coffin before refilling the tomb. There was no law against carting a dead body through the streets of London. But stealing a cadaver and its grave clothes could earn a man seven years in Botany Bay.

“Sorry about the mud,” said Cockran. “We’ve had a might o’ rain today.”

“I understand. Thank you, gentleman,” said Gibson. “Here’s your twenty guineas.”

It was the going price for an adult male; adult females generally went for fifteen, with children being sold by the foot. Cockran shook his head and hawked up a mouthful of phlegm he shot out the door. “Nah. Make it eighteen. I got me professional pride, and he’s not as fresh as I like ’em to be. But ye would have this one.”

Gibson stared at the pallid, handsome face of the body lying on his dissection table. “It’s not often a healthy young man succumbs to a weak heart. This gentleman’s body has much to teach us about diseases of the circulation system.”

“Weary interestin’, I’m sure,” said Cockran, scooping up his muddy sack. “Thank ye kindly fer the business, and a weary good night to ye, sir.”

After the men had left, Gibson relit his lantern and hung it from the chain suspended over the table. The lantern swayed gently back and forth, the golden light playing over the pale flesh of the body below. In life, his name had been Benjamin Knox. A well-formed gentleman of twenty-eight years, he’d had long, leanly muscled arms and legs, and a broad chest tapering to a slim waist and hips. He looked as if he should have been the epitome of health. Yet four days before his heart had stopped as he slept peacefully in his own bed.

The delicate dissection of the defective heart would need to wait until daylight. But Gibson set to work with a bowl of warm water and a cloth, sponging off the mud of the graveyard and casting a preliminary practiced eye over the corpse.
It was when he was washing the soil from the back of the man’s neck that he found it: a short purple slit at the base of the skull. Frowning, Gibson reached for a probe and watched in horror as it slid in four inches, easily following the path previously cut through living flesh by a stiletto.

Taking a step back, he set aside the probe with a soft clatter, his teeth sinking into his lower lip as he brought his gaze back to the young man’s alabaster face. “Bloody hell,” he whispered. “You didn’t die of a defective heart. You were murdered.”

Friday, November 06, 2009


Finally, finally, I have finished The Babylonian Codex. This book feels as if it's taken me forever to write. But now it's done and I can get back to work on Where Shadows Dance, the next book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. The thrillers are fun, but I do miss Sebastian!

I'll be doing a booksigning for What Remains of Heaven tomorrow, Novemeber 7th, at the Garden District Bookstore in New Orleans, from 1-3. Hope to see you there if you're in the area.

And here, for smiles, is a picture of little Roscoe...

Monday, November 02, 2009

What Remains of Heaven goes on sale officially tomorrow, but from the sounds of things NAL isn't being too careful about "lay down" (which is really only important when a publisher hopes a book will hit the lists). Since I'm distracted at the moment, here are two more reviews, a nice one from Romantic Times, which gave the book 4 1/2 stars and made it a Top Pick, and a slightly snarky one from Publishers Weekly.

Romantic Times, Top Pick 41/2 stars:
"From dissolute and disillusioned to insightful and probing, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, has evolved into a fascinating and effective detective as he moves stealthily among the ton to investigate murders in London's upper echelon. Harris' deft touch with atmosphere and history weaves a rich tapestry for this complex tale of a murderer driven by fear. This first-class historical mystery will put Harris in the stratosphere of some of the best historical writers.

"The Archbishop of Canterbury asks Sebastian to help investigate the mystery of two corpses found in ancient crypt, their violent deaths separated by decades. The first is the Bishop of London, who was the Archbishop's heir apparent, a controversial figure among the ton. But before he can solve that murder, Sebastian has to identify the second body and how it relates to the feisty bishop.

"Sebastian's suspect list includes some of the Prince Regent's closest friends and expatriate William Franklin, son of American patriot Ben. Along the way he must also confront some dark family secrets that will undoubtedly affect his life."

Publishers Weekly:
What Remains of Heaven: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery C.S. Harris. NAL/ Long-festering family secrets, treachery and worse threaten Sebastian St. Cyr in Harris's addictive fifth Regency-era mystery starring the dashing soldier-turned-sleuth (after 2008's Where Serpents Sleep). From the start, St. Cyr's mission is sensitive: finding out who killed the bishop of London, a leading candidate for archbishop of Canterbury, in the crypt of the same country church where the mummified body of another murder victim was discovered only hours earlier. It becomes downright dangerous once the charismatic viscount unearths the surprising connection between the men as well as the many powerful enemies with motives for their murder—including his own father. Harris weaves palpable period detail and romantic subplots with such ease that her occasional descriptive laziness, such as repeats of “fiercely blue St. Cyr eyes,” grates inordinately. But it shouldn't keep you from being swept up by her seductive antihero at his swashbuckling best."

Of course, this is why they invented the ellipsis, so that authors can take less-than-perfect reviews and make them sound like raves, i.e.: “Addictive...Harris weaves palpable period detail and romantic subplots with such ease…her seductive antihero at his swashbuckling best.”