I am in the fortunate position of having access to publishers’ Advanced Readers’ Copies (ARCs), and so get to read many books before they come out. This one is due out in January 2014, so get your holds on it as soon as possible!
The Devil’s Breath (Find this book in our catalog) is set in the year 1983 in Oxfordshire, England and should appeal to fans of Ariana Franklin, Caleb Carr, and David Liss. The attractions of these books are the accuracy of the historical setting, the plot set in real events of the age, and a protagonist who is a proponent of early forensic science in an age of superstition. You will love The Devil’s Breath if you relish an atmosphere of dark and gloom leading to hysteria and murder. Tessa Harris is skilled in revealingthe psychology of an ignorant and frightened mass, and also of real evil.
The Devil’s Breath is populated with real historical characters; for instance, Sir John Dashwood-King was the heir of Sir Francis Dashwood, friend of Benjamin Franklin and founder of the famous Hellfire Club. The book’s conclusion is an exciting and horrific denouement in the Hellfire Caves, a series of underground caverns carved out for the use of the Hellfire Club.
The book’s fictional hero is Dr. Thomas Silkstone, an anatomist. His skills in anatomy and herbal medicine become vital when a choking cloud of sulphurous fog covers most of the north and east of England as far south as London for weeks on end. Many people suffer breathing disorders and many die. This really happened in 1783 – it was perhaps the first recorded instance of acid rain – and for a long time no one could discover the source of the cloud. About a third of livestock was killed and most of the crops were destroyed, since the cloud occurred at harvest time.
In the disaster three possibly connected murders in Oxfordshire go uninvestigated – except by Dr. Silkwood - because no officials are interested in travelling and risking their lives.
The Devil’s Breath is third in a series beginning with The Dead Shall Not Rest. For me, one weakness in the book is the frequent mention of plot elements from the other books – it seemed a teasing attempt to make the reader seek out the other books, and for me it was an unnecessary diversion. The dense plot requires a fair bit of attention, but all the details loop round and connect in the end and make for a very satisfying and fast read.
This is what it says in our catalog: “Publishers Weekly Reviews: A real-life natural disaster propels Harris’s excellent third Thomas Silkstone mystery (after 2013′s The Dead Shall Not Rest). The odd behavior of wildlife, including a massive flock of geese flying overhead, tips off anatomist Silkstone, an American expatriate, that something is amiss in 1783 England. The county of Lincolnshire is overwhelmed by a huge noxious cloud, spread out “across the entire skyline… like an enormous wave.” The choking fog is accompanied by acid rain, and is viewed by the superstitious as the devil’s breath and a sign of divine punishment. As the “Great Fogg” afflicts more of the country, the medico has a number of murders to solve, including the brutal bludgeoning of two young children. Meanwhile, Silkstone’s love interest, Lady Lydia Farrell, is desperate to find her lost son. Both literally and figuratively atmospheric, this will appeal to fans of Imogen Robertson’s series set during the same period.”