The Woman in The Water (Charles Finch)

March 16, 2018 Book Reviews 7 ★★★★½

The Woman in The Water (Charles Finch)The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch
Series: Charles Lenox #0.1
Published by Minotaur Books on February 20, 2018
Genres: British mystery, Historical Mystery
Format: eARC, Hardcover
Source: the library, the publisher
Purchase: Amazon | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble
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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 Inheritance, Gone Before Christmas, The Vanishing Man, The Last Passenger, An Extravagant Death
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, Gone Before Christmas, The Vanishing Man, The Last Passenger, An Extravagant Death

This chilling new mystery in the USA Today bestselling series by Charles Finch takes readers back to Charles Lenox's very first case and the ruthless serial killer who would set him on the course to become one of London's most brilliant detectives.

London, 1850: A young Charles Lenox struggles to make a name for himself as a detective...without a single case. Scotland Yard refuses to take him seriously and his friends deride him for attempting a profession at all. But when an anonymous writer sends a letter to the paper claiming to have committed the perfect crime—and promising to kill again—Lenox is convinced that this is his chance to prove himself.

The writer's first victim is a young woman whose body is found in a naval trunk, caught up in the rushes of a small islets in the middle of the Thames. With few clues to go on, Lenox endeavors to solve the crime before another innocent life is lost. When the killer's sights are turned toward those whom Lenox holds most dear, the stakes are raised and Lenox is trapped in a desperate game of cat and mouse.

In the tradition of Sherlock Holmes, this newest mystery in the Charles Lenox series pits the young detective against a maniacal murderer who would give Professor Moriarty a run for his money.

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


Charles Finch is that somewhat rare and highly-prized bird, a mystery author whose literary craftsmanship shines on every page. His plots are intricate and usually confounding; only rarely can I untangle even part of the solution without being told. His prose is precise and perceptive, slightly formal, cool but never cold; its flavor is Victorian without the floridness sometimes associated with writers of that era. It’s a perfect match for Finch’s detective, Charles Lenox, a gentleman and the second son of a baronet: reserved, sensitive to nuance, highly observant, and possessed of both compassion and a deep-seated sense of justice, as well as a deep loyalty to his family and friends.

The Woman in The Water is the 11th Finch has written about his detective, but chronologically it falls first. Here, Lenox is barely 23, still trying to establish himself in the career he is inventing for himself, and at the same time attempting to get Scotland Yard to treat him seriously. Too much of a gentleman to consider actually entering the Force (as his literary “cousin,” Roderick Alleyn, does in Ngaio Marsh’s mysteries set in the 1930s-60s), Lenox doesn’t draw back from the unpleasant aspects of detection, but is highly uncomfortable with the idea of making money from it.

All the major characters of the “later” mysteries appear in this novel, from Lenox’s indispensible valet, assistant, and friend, Graham, to his childhood friend Lady Jane (here called Elizabeth at the behest of her new husband’s family.) We meet Charles’s brother Edmund and both his parents, along with Inspectors Field and Exeter. There’s a short encounter with Dr. Thomas McConnell, a good friend in the main part of the series but here a new acquaintance. Even the older Charles’s young apprentice, Lord John Dallington, makes a very brief appearance—at the tender age of four.

These glimpses and more than glimpses of familiar characters are a delight, of course, but The Woman in the Water is first and foremost a mystery—and what a mystery! Two unidentified women, killed a month apart, their bodies found on the banks of the Thames, but with little else to link them except a letter sent by the killer to one of London’s many newspapers. There is almost nothing to go on, but piece by piece, small flash of insight by blinding revelation, Charles digs away at the few clues they have, coming at last to a most surprising conclusion.

If you enjoy matching wits with the best crime writers, you’ll find in The Woman in the Water a puzzle to sink your teeth into. I can almost guarantee you will not solve it on your own, not because Finch withholds clues (he is scrupulously fair with those) but because the mystery and its solution are convoluted, precisely crafted, and fiendishly difficult to figure out. If you like accuracy in your historical mystery, you’ll find that here as well; as far as I can tell, Finch gets both the larger picture and the small details right, and has a well-honed sense of the English class structure and social behaviors and expectations. And if you are a fan of Lord Peter Wimsey and/or Roderick Alleyn, I can assure you that Charles Lenox is cut from much the same cloth, though without Wimsey’s silly-ass mask and penchant for both quotes and witty banter.

If you want to start with The Woman in the Water, be aware that the main part of the series begins 15 years later, in 1865. On the other hand, there’s a lot to be said for starting with the first book, A Beautiful Blue Death (review), and reading at least some of the subsequent books before turning to this prequel. While it’s not strictly necessary, I think my enjoyment of The Woman in the Water was heightened by my familiarity with the recurring characters, and the opportunity to see what they were like in their younger years. Either way, you won’t be disappointed; I’ve yet to read a Charles Finch book that didn’t impress me with its perfect craftsmanship and excellent prose.



Addendum: Don’t let the #0.1 numbering mislead you. The Woman in the Water is a full-length novel, the first in a proposed trilogy that serves as a prequel to the Charles Lenox series.




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:

  • Take Control of Your TBR Pile Challenge (March 2018)

7 Responses to “The Woman in The Water (Charles Finch)”

  1. Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library

    I finished the first book in this serious fairly recently and absolutely loved it! I’m really looking forward to continuing with the series – especially since it sounds like the mysteries stay complex and well crafted.

  2. bookworm

    The Woman in the Water sounds very good, I have yet to read a mystery where I’ve solved it on my own lol. I never know who did it until the author tells me.
    Happy week!