Series: Charles Lenox #8
Published by Minotaur Books on 2014-11-11
Genres: Historical Mystery, Mystery
Source: the publisher
Also in this series: An Old Betrayal, A Beautiful Blue Death, The September Society, The Fleet Street Murders, Home By Nightfall, The Inheritance
Also by this author: An Old Betrayal, A Beautiful Blue Death, The September Society, The Fleet Street Murders, Home By Nightfall, The Inheritance
It’s 1876, and Charles Lenox, once London’s leading private investigator, has just given up his seat in Parliament after six years, primed to return to his first love, detection. With high hopes he and three colleagues start a new detective agency, the first of its kind. But as the months pass, and he is the only detective who cannot find work, Lenox begins to question whether he can still play the game as he once did.Then comes a chance to redeem himself, though at a terrible price: a friend, a member of Scotland Yard, is shot near Regent’s Park. As Lenox begins to parse the peculiar details of the death – an unlaced boot, a days-old wound, an untraceable luggage ticket – he realizes that the incident may lead him into grave personal danger, beyond which lies a terrible truth.With all the humanity, glamor, and mystery that readers have come to love, the latest Lenox novel is a shining new confirmation of the enduring popularity of Charles Finch’s Victorian series.
What’s. . . Your Poison?
Guest Post by Charles Finch
I’m pretty sure that not all of us regularly think about how to kill people – pretty sure, though I will make allowances for those of you who work in retail, or root for the Chicago Cubs. I do however. So far, the tally: poison, gunshot, stabbing, poison, stabbing, gunshot, strangulation, poison. And a bunch of others I’m probably forgetting.
That’s still better than Agatha Christie, who once estimated that she slaughtered more than a thousand people. Such is the peculiar fate of the mystery novelist. Every year we have a conference – Bouchercon, you should come and buy Michael Connelly a beer! – and I don’t think I’ve ever found a group of kinder, gentler, more humorous, self-deprecating people. Murderers all. At least in ink.
Naturally, the conversation often turns to: how?
I write Victorian mystery novels, and that limits what I can do. No assault rifles; no anthrax; no torpedoes. I actually enjoy the challenge. For my first book, A Beautiful Blue Death, I invented a poison (“pizen,” as one of Dickens’s characters might say) that had the attributes of several different exotic real-life poisons, including the odd effect of turning its victims’ blood blue. Christie liked to use poison because it was subtle, and because she had studied pharmaceuticals, and therefore knew a lot about the subject. I like it because I don’t care for grisly crime novels – although in my fifth book, A Burial at Sea, the deaths are a little bit unpleasant, and I have to admit that it’s my favorite in the series.
The most creative method of fictional murder that I know belongs, naturally, to a character of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s – the wonderfully terrifying Dr. Grimesby Roylott, who in “The Speckled Band” uses a rare snake, “a swamp adder, the deadliest snake in India” to try to murder his stepdaughter. Doyle knew what he was doing. (Or, sort of – snakes are deaf, which means they can’t be whistled into action, and they also can’t climb cords, which the fictional swamp adder does.) On the other hand, he’s also responsible for one of the silliest methods of murder – death by jellyfish, in “The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane,” one of the weaker late stories. Yes, that’s a spoiler, but trust me: I’m saving you some time.
In my newest book, The Laws of Murder, I fall back, alas, on the old standby: a single pistol shot to the temple, leaving a neat hole. Maybe that’s because in the end I don’t read murder mysteries for the murders. Isn’t it funny, how these stories are a comfort and reassurance to so many of us, an escape? Why are we escaping into violence? For a safe thrill, sure – but those of us who prefer gentler mysteries, I think, are really there to see everything put right. Give me Holmes: meting out justice, returning the world to its proper state of benevolent, positivist rationality. If only life were like that. We kill people on paper in the dream that such tidy resolution would be possible; but of course it’s not. Alas.
Charles Lenox, gentleman and former M.P., is finding it harder than he expected to get back into detection after six years as in Parliament. . . and it doesn’t help that his former allies at Scotland Yard seem determined to scuttle his new detective agency before it can properly get on its feet. But when one of his oldest friends at the Yard is murdered, Charles and his partner Dallington are more than willing to join the investigation. The case will lead them to iniquity at the highest levels of society as well as into personal danger.
I discovered Charles Finch’s mystery series only last year, and I’m already hooked. Finch writes with clarity, precision, and a restraint that is far from emotionless. His prose has much of the flavor of Victorian literature while avoiding its excesses. He’s also quite skilled at plotting a mystery; while I eventually guessed a few aspects of the case, he managed to lead me completely down the garden path regarding some of the most important facets, including the identity of the murderer.
Lenox himself exhibits a similar restraint to that of Finch’s writing style. He’s a gentleman detective in the tradition of Lord Peter Wimsey, Campion, and Roderick Alleyn, but more like Alleyn in temperament: somewhat reserved except among close friends, honorable, a man whose integrity is so ingrained he never has to think about it. Lenox also has many of the traditional attitudes of his class, sex, and era, but these are tempered by his intellect, his compassion, his experience, and above all his willingness to question what seems apparent – a vital attribute for a detective. It’s not always comfortable, however, and it’s interesting to watch him begin to question those assumptions: wondering, for example, whether it’s quite fair that he can vote when his young and intelligent daughter will not be able to.
Finch is quite aware of Victorian customs, social mores, and class distinctions. In this book, Lenox finds the transition from gentleman M.P. to being in business (as opposed to being an amateur) somewhat awkward. His lack of success in bringing in cases is also beginning to strain the partnership, at least with his two newer (and poorer) associates, LeMaine the Frenchman and Polly Strickland, who unlike Dallington and Lenox have no other source of income.
I quite enjoy the secondary characters in the series, from Lenox’s supportive wife, Lady Jane, to his friends Lord Dallington and Dr. McConnell. But it’s Lenox who stands at the center of the books – not a colorful or ideosyncratic character like Holmes or Lord Peter Wimsey, but a man well worth taking the time to get to know. If you enjoy intelligent, well-written, and ingenious detective novels, by all means read the Charles Lenox mysteries by Charles Finch.
I have an ARC of The Laws of Murder to give away to one lucky reader.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2014