An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch

February 11, 2021 Book Reviews 4 ★★★★½

An Extravagant Death by Charles FinchAn Extravagant Death by Charles Finch
Series: Charles Lenox #14
on Feb. 16, 2021
Genres: Historical Mystery
Pages: 304
Format: Kindle or ebook
Source: the publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Book Depository | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble
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four-half-stars
Also in this series: An Old Betrayal, The Laws of Murder, A Beautiful Blue Death, The September Society, The Fleet Street Murders, Home By Nightfall, The Inheritance, The Woman in the Water, Gone Before Christmas, The Vanishing Man, The Last Passenger
Also by this author: An Old Betrayal, The Laws of Murder, A Beautiful Blue Death, The September Society, The Fleet Street Murders, Home By Nightfall, The Inheritance, The Woman in the Water, Gone Before Christmas, The Vanishing Man, The Last Passenger

In what promises to be a breakout in Charles Finch's bestselling series, Charles Lenox travels to the New York and Newport of the dawning Gilded Age to investigate the death of a beautiful socialite.

London, 1878. With faith in Scotland Yard shattered after a damning corruption investigation, Charles Lenox's detective agency is rapidly expanding. The gentleman sleuth has all the work he can handle, two children, and an intriguing new murder case.

But when Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli offers him the opportunity to undertake a diplomatic mission for the Queen, Lenox welcomes the chance to satisfy an unfulfilled yearning: to travel to America. Arriving in New York, he begins to receive introductions into both its old Knickerbocker society and its new robber baron splendor. Then, a shock: the death of the season's most beautiful debutante, who appears to have thrown herself from a cliff. Or was it murder? Lenox’s reputation has preceded him to the States, and he is summoned to a magnificent Newport mansion to investigate the mysterious death. What ensues is a fiendish game of cat and mouse.

Witty, complex, and tender, An Extravagant Death is Charles Finch's triumphant return to the main storyline of his beloved Charles Lenox series—a devilish mystery, a social drama, and an unforgettable first trip for an Englishman coming to America.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.

Gilded Age Murder

After three excellent prequels in the Charles Lenox series, An Extravagant Death brings us back to the main timeline. The novel begins with Lenox headed for America at the behest of HRM’s government. While there, he is summoned by Mr. Schermerhorn, the head of one of New York’s most wealthy, prestigious families, to solve the murder of a beautiful young woman along Newport’s famous Cliff Walk.

Lily Allingham’s death proves anything but straightforward. Was she killed by Schermerhorn’s son Willie, to whom she had recently become engaged? Or by Laurence Vanderbilt, who also loved her? Or by some third person, for reasons unknown? And why was she walking along the Cliff Walk that fateful night, instead of resting quietly at home, or still dancing at the ball she had attended earlier that evening?

Aided by young Teddy Blaine, the second son of one of New York’s nouveau riche and an aspiring detective himself, Charles must navigate the treacherous waters of Newport’s glittering social scene and win the respect of the working-class fishing families of the original village if he is to uncover the killer’s identity before he, or she, strikes again.

The book is wonderful, a fitting return to the older, wiser Lenox following three novels (The Woman in the Water, The Vanishing Man, The Last Passenger) in which we saw his development from an aspiring, somewhat naive young detective to a somewhat more seasoned professional honing his skills. The older Lenox of An Extravagant Death is his usual observant, thoughtful self, despite being in unfamiliar territory both geographically and socially. And as always, Charles Finch’s writing is as quietly eloquent, his characterizations as insightful, and the plot as well-constructed as I have come to expect from this series. The story does get off to a slow start, however, with several chapters dedicated to the reasons for Lenox’s departure from London and his impressions of New York City before the summons to Newport signals the beginning of a case. It’s not boring—Finch’s novels are never that!—but readers who prefer to plunge immediately into the whodunnit will have to exercise some patience.

Once the mystery really gets going, Finch does an excellent job of laying out the investigation, giving the reader the necessary clues while pulling the figurative wool over their eyes. My own suspicions focused on several individuals by turns; the final solution came as a surprise, because I had already considered and dismissed the true murderer as a suspect.

But that wasn’t the only surprise toward the end of the book, and I have to admit that when I finished reading, I felt simultaneously deeply satisfied and slightly unsettled. I look forward eagerly to the next book to resolve that feeling, and for the next chapter in Charles Lenox’s storied career.

four-half-stars

About Charles Finch

Author photo: Charles Finch

Charles Finch is a graduate of Yale and Oxford. He is the author of the Charles Lenox mysteries. His first novel, A Beautiful Blue Death, was nominated for an Agatha Award and was named one of Library Journal’s Best Books of 2007, one of only five mystery novels on the list. His first contemporary novel, The Last Enchantments, about expatriate life in Oxford, was published in January 2014. His essays have appeared in a number of publications, and he reviews books for The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune, and USA Today. Finch has lived in America, England, and France, and is now back in Chicago.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Seasons 2021: Winter

4 Responses to “An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I highly recommend this series! I think they are probably best read in publication order, starting with A Beautiful Blue Death. That said, I started in the middle of the main timeline, simply because Minotaur offered me an ARC of An Old Betrayal. I fell in love with the series, and have read most of the books published before that one, and all the ones published after it.)

  1. Sophia Rose

    You captured this book so well in your review, Lark. Oh yes, as we discussed, I was ‘unsettled’, too. 🙂