Mon 24 Oct 2011
Reviews by L. J. Roberts
CHARLES FINCH – A Stranger in Mayfair. St. Martin’s/Minotaur Press, hardcover, November 2010; trade paperback, July 2011.
Genre: Historical mystery. Leading character: Charles Lenox; 4th in series. Setting: London, England-Victorian era.
First Sentence: “Clara, who is that gentleman?”
Charles Lenox has, at forty, entered a new phase in his life. He is newly married to Lady Jane, for years his best friend and neighbor, and he is newly elected to Parliament’s House of Commons.
The second of these events necessitates spending less time doing detective work — but not yet. A colleague in Parliament, Ludovic Starling, has asked Lenox to investigate the murder of one of his footman.
As Lenox, and his protégée Dallington, move forward in the investigation, they are met with resistance not only from Scotland Yard but from Starling, who asks them to give up the case. An attack on Lenox stiffens his resolve to find the killer.
Finch has become a favorite of mine and this book, once again, demonstrates why as there were so many levels on which I enjoyed this book.
We are introduced to Lenox and Lady Jane through a conversation held by others, via a prologue which actually works as it allows their back story to be told without it seeming forced or cumbersome. Each of the characters are fully drawn with very brief exposition that brings them to life.
One thing by which I am very impressed is how, with each book in the series, the characters lives individually grow and develop. This impacts not only each character but the relationships amongst them. Relationships are something Finch does extremely well, including the awkwardness of a newly married couple and a man making a major change in his career.
Mr. Finch’s knowledge of Victorian England is evident in every page and yet, again, so seamlessly incorporated into the plot that it is informative rather than intrusive. Through Lenox’s work in Parliament, we learn the concerns of the period and meet historical figures in their proper settings and appropriate roles. Through the birth of a child, we observe the customs and etiquette of the time.
Although Finch is American, he studied at Oxford, now lives in the UK and delightfully conveys British humor and understatement, “For an Englishman is was a strange time to be in France….first because of Napoleon’s rather uncouth attempt to conquer Europe…” The dialogue has a natural flow but also reflects the speech of the time.
Neither of the above is meant to devalue the plot. The mystery is intriguing, and full of effective twists. I like that solution is no more obvious to Lenox than to us, the reader. We are presented with numerous possibilities, each dismissed, until the final resolution.
Might I have figured it out? Perhaps; but the story involved me to the point where I wasn’t deliberately trying.
The only reason I did not rate the book as “excellent” was the use of portents which were completely unnecessary. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it with the proviso suggestion of starting the series at the beginning.
Rating: VG Plus.
The Charles Lenox Mysteries –
1. A Beautiful Blue Death (2007)
2. The September Society (2008)
3. The Fleet Street Murders (2009)
4. A Stranger in Mayfair (2010)
5. A Burial at Sea (2011)