When Maidens Mourn - C.S. Harris
Mild spoilers ahead

I've now read six of the seven books in this series*, which is set in Regency London and features Peninsular War veteran Sebastian St Cyr, aka Viscount Devlin, and his wife, the feisty and feminist Hero Jarvis. Like lots of other crime fiction writers, Harris has a formula for these books and she pretty much sticks to it. Here's how it goes:

(a) Brief introduction;
(b) Murder is discovered;
(c) Sebastian (and Hero) become involved in investigation;
(d) Investigation proceeds, consisting of Sebastian and Hero taking themselves around London - mostly separately but occasionally together - interviewing suspects and/or witnesses;
(e) Sebastian and Hero exchange information and/or hide information from each other**;
(f) Sebastian and/or Hero get themselves beaten up and/or save themselves and/or each other and/or other people from being beaten up;
(g) Sebastian and/or Hero kill someone in self defence or in defence of someone else;
(h) Murder is solved and murderer brought to justice.

The above proceeds with the accompaniment of the requisite number of red herrings and a good sprinkling of historical information to set the narrative in place and time. This particular instalment involves Arthurian legend, French prisoners of war and the Tennyson family.

Formulaic writing does not make good literature and that is certainly true of this novel. However, it's not all that's wrong with the writing. I wrote in my review of the sixth novel in the series, Where Shadows Dance, that Harris brought out my inner pedant. The same applies in this instalment. For example, Harris uses language to set the novel in place and time, using some particular expressions to help re-create 1812 London. I don't have a problem with her doing that: the use of language is a central characteristic of the work of Georgette Heyer, who virtually created the Regency romance genre and to whom Harris clearly owes a debt. However, if a writer is going to use that technique, then it's best to avoid, for example, Americanisms. Somehow I doubt that a cook working in a genteel London household in 1812 made "oatmeal cookies".

There are other examples of sloppy use of language. "Disinterested", for example, is used more than once in the narrative. This word does not mean what Harris (or her editor) apparently think it means. In addition, Harris has a thing for the verb "to hunker down", which is used to excess. This expression also featured heavily in Where Shadows Dance. How hard would it be to find a synonym? I can think of about six without consulting a thesaurus.

There's nothing particularly unusual about formulaic writing in crime fiction and I'm not entirely sure why it bothers me in this series, or why I focus on linguistic quirks which might not concern me otherwise. But those aspects of the writing do annoy me, even if not quite enough to stop me reading the series altogether. I've been wondering why I persist with it and I don't really know the answer. Maybe it's just that since I practically grew up on Georgette Heyer romances, the Regency period appeals to me. In addition, Sebastian and Hero are quite interesting characters and Harris is good at historical research and at integrating history into her plots. For the time being I'm going to hang on to those positives and read the next book in the series when it appears. And then I'll probably complain about it.

This gets a low three stars - more like 2-1/2 stars - for the historical setting and the integration of the Tennyson family into the plot, for the appearance of a very appealing dog and for the fact that it's a quick and easy read.

*I didn't bother with #2 because I was underwhelmed by #1, but I then decided to give the series another chance and went straight to #3.

** For reasons to do with the difficult nature of their relationship and not worth going into here.