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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 Woman in the Water, Gone Before Christmas, The Vanishing Man, The Last Passenger, An Extravagant Death
Charles Lenox has received a cryptic plea for help from an old Harrow schoolmate, Gerald Leigh, but when he looks into the matter he finds that his friend has suddenly disappeared. As boys they had shared a secret: a bequest from a mysterious benefactor had smoothed Leigh’s way into the world after the death of his father. Lenox, already with a passionate interest in detective work, made discovering the benefactor's identity his first case – but was never able to solve it.
Now, years later, Leigh has been the recipient of a second, even more generous bequest. Is it from the same anonymous sponsor? Or is the money poisoned by ulterior motives? Leigh’s disappearance suggests the latter, and as Lenox tries, desperately, to save his friend’s life, he’s forced into confrontations with both the most dangerous of east end gangs and the far more genteel denizens of the illustrious Royal Society. When someone close to the bequest dies, Lenox must finally delve deep into the past to uncover at last the identity of the person who is either his friend’s savior – or his lethal enemy.
I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.
Charles Lenox’s first case, never solved, is reopened when his old school friend Gerald Leigh is left a legacy by perhaps the same unnamed benefactor who, decades before, had paid his fees for Harrow. Coincidentally and equally mysteriously, however, there are several attempts on Leigh’s life. Leigh, now a distinguished scientist working on microbes, seems an unlikely target for murder, unless it has something to do with his inheritance. Charles, concerned for Leigh’s safety, takes up the case pro bono, and applies his usual blend of quiet but keen observation, steady determination, and flashes of insight to solve it.
Meanwhile, a break-in (or perhaps a break-out?) at Parliament creates occasion for a disagreement between Lenox’s partners, Lord John Dallington and Polly Buchanan — a quarrel that threatens the as-yet-unacknowledged affection between the two. And things are not quite right between Charles and his wife, Lady Jane, either; she seems unaccountably sad, and Charles hasn’t the least notion why.
I particularly enjoyed the glimpses into Charles’s boyhood, and the resumption of his and Leigh’s friendship in middle age. Most of the book’s “present” scenes are set in 1870s London, and Finch describes it well, from the paperboy shouting on the corner to the differences between Mayfair and the East End. There’s a nice balance between action and contemplation, and I appreciated the appearance of Inspector Frost of Scotland Yard, who is more respectful of Lenox’s abilities and open to his participation than some of Frost’s colleagues.
The solution to this mystery caught me by surprise, though when I went back and looked, there were one or two hints earlier in the book. It’s not a case of the author not playing fair with the reader; some of the necessary pieces of information don’t surface until quite late in the novel, so Lenox (through whose eyes we see, courtesy of the third-person-limited narration) doesn’t know them either. Everything he learns, we learn, though we’re not always privy to his thought processes or conclusions.
Finch’s Lenox novels are ingenious puzzles, cleverly plotted, but they never neglect the human element. Finch writes with a kind of sober formality, his prose almost Victorian in its diction, yet without the flowery excesses of much of the literature of that age. Yet the quiet sensitivity and compassion of his gentleman detective infuses the entire series, giving the novels a quiet warmth.
I’ve read and enjoyed 7 of the 10 Lenox mysteries so far, and have been impressed not only with the quality of Charles Finch’s writing, but also his consistency. 4 stars is the lowest I’ve given his books; most, like this one, have deserved 4.5 stars. (And I rate conservatively. A book has to be phenomenal, or a favorite for repeated re-reading, to get a 5.) Each can be read as a stand-alone, but the series does follow Charles’s career and private life over time, so you may prefer to read the books in order.
Reading this book contributed to these challenges:
- Cruisin' Thru the Cozies 2016