Tag Archives: Charles Finch

The Inheritance

the-inheritance

Title:  The Inheritance (Charles Lenox Mystery 10)
Author:  Charles Finch
Publisher:  Minotaur
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-250-07042-5

Book Summary:
After a quiet holiday in the country with his family, Charles Lenox returns home early when he receives a cryptic note from an old friend.  Gerald Leigh and Charles were unlikely friends at Harrow; Charles was a fairly “by-the-book” student while Gerald scoffed at the rules and eventually left school early.  Charles was from a well-to-do family; Gerald’s attendance at Harrow was paid for by a mysterious benefactor.  Although different, the two boys found common interests and deep, respective friendship, and the search for the identity of Gerald’s mysterious benefactor was Charles’ first, albeit unsuccessful, foray into detecting.

Gerald’s note is choppy and distracted, but Charles feels compelled to help.  His intent for assistance turns into alarm when Gerald fails to appear to meet as promised.  Charles deduces some potential places that he may be hiding out and when he finds Gerald, he is discovers two shocking things.  One, Gerald has been bequeathed another, more substantial bequest, and someone is trying to kill him.

Committed to helping keep his friend safe and finally solving his first case, Charles plunges into the scientific world of the Royal Society.  In the years since he left Harrow, Gerald has established a name for himself through his scientific discoveries; is it someone from his present, or from his past, that is trying to kill him?  Further demanding of his time, Charles’ detective agency is on retainer for smaller cases in Parliament.  A recent rash of thefts has proven elusive and dangerous.  With his quintessential English stoicism, Charles strives to help both his friend and his country.

Book Commentary:
With the tenth book in the Charles Lenox series, author Charles Finch has something that few authors of long-running series can claim: he maintains consistent quality stories.  I find that with some authors who have a dozen or more books in a series, there are a few that just don’t maintain my interest or have a consistent quality.  All the Charles Lenox stories are excellent, and I think the main reason is the character of Charles Lenox.  He is an intelligent, charismatic protagonist with a refined, calm demeanor.  That is not to say he is perfect; at times, he is arrogant, aristocratic, and flawed.  He is human, from his flaws to his attributes; he is also very likable, someone I would like to have tea and an intelligent conversation with.

The series relies on diverse plot-lines with some adventure, but bottom line is that the protagonist solves the cases through good, old-fashioned detecting. I don’t want to insult them by calling them “quiet” stories because author’s witty and elegant writing style keep the reader fully engaged, but he doesn’t feel the need to always include some grandiose, cliff-hanging escapade in order to solve the case.

I also enjoy the subtle history lessons that author weaves into the story.  He discusses how advent of the telegraph brought both progress and problems to Parliament and how the English custom of driving on  the left came about.

The secondary characters of Edmund, Jane, Dallington, and McConnell reappear in each book to help maintain the consistency of the plots and help to ground Charles into the life of a gentleman.  I look forward to their appearance in each story; their own personal growth and development as characters further influences and defines Charles’ own personality.

Who might like this book:
This series would appeal to anyone who likes a classic English mystery.  The author’s grasp on history is similar to how Tasha Alexander weaves together events, customs, and principles of England in the late 1800’s.

DO NOT even think about not reading this series in order.  It is a great one to get hooked on because there are so many!!  Here is the series in order:
A Beautiful Blue Death
The September Society
The Fleet Street Murders
A Stranger in Mayfair
A Burial at Sea
A Death in the Small Hours
An Old Betrayal
The Laws of Murder
Home By Nightfall

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Four NECESSITIES FOR A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

mysteries

I think by now it is pretty clear that I love a good mystery series.  It probably started back in my Trixie Belden days, although I did read a fair amount of Nancy Drew as well.  When I was in college, I worked at a small bookstore in Geneva, Illinois.  There I got hooked on the Anne Perry mysteries.  I read a lot of different things in college for fun, but Anne Perry’s books truly solidified my love of series mysteries.  I branched out and read other authors, and the rest, as they say is history.

I currently have about fifty mystery series that I follow regularly; over the years, there have been some I have let go for a variety of reasons and I am always on the lookout for a new series.  For me, there are certain details that keep me engaged in a mystery series.  So for my completely biased opinion, these are my necessities of a good mystery series.

Four NECESSITIES OF A GOOD MYSTERY SERIES on Friday

Interesting, plausible protagonist
Although I have read a lot of true crime novels, a good mystery for me is rooted in the characters.  I think that any good series must maintain strong, consistent characters to stabilize the continuity of the series.  It is what ties each book to the previous one and it is what the reader follows from book to book.  When a new release of a favorite author comes out, it feels like catching up with an old friend and visiting about what has happened since the last time we met.

I am not picky about the gender of my protagonist.  I love the female Lady Darby in Anna Lee Huber’s books and Amory Ames in Ashley Weaver’s series, but I find Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston and C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr just as engaging.  The key, and I know I have said it before, is that context in which the protagonist encounters a crime must be believable, it must be consistent, and it must be evolving.  I love a good cozy mystery but after a while, multiple deaths in a small town or at a certain ski resort; well, I don’t think I would put that on a place to visit!

Inquiry agents like Charles Lenox in Charles’ Finch’s series or Derek Stone in Kate Carlisle’s Bibliophile mysteries, police detectives like Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James in Deborah Crombie Scotland Yard series, or even judges and attorneys like Verlaque and Bonnet in M. L. Longworth’s Provencal mysteries all have realistic reasons to encounter, and more importantly, be involved in, solving crimes.

Cozy mysteries are very entertaining and enjoyable, but they don’t have the same sustainability as something that is more grounded.  A good cozy writer should know when to quit and move on to a new series.

Historical setting
Not everything I read has a historical setting but it is definitely a huge plus in what makes a series my favorite.  Yes, I love the simpler time, the fascinating couture, the social customs and limitations, but honestly, the very best part is the lack of technology, specifically the internet.  Historical crime solvers must rely on their ingenuity and inquiry skills.  Now I am not discrediting modern detectives, but I truly love watching characters fit different pieces together.  I know that much of the detecting work could be completed a lot faster with modern tools, but what’s the point of a 50-page mystery!  I often think “why don’t they just look it up online” when I am reading a historical mystery before I remember that isn’t an option.

With characters spending days traveling by horseback or coach or waiting for letters to arrive, the tension of the story builds.  The reader often is sidetracked by the minutia of daily life and seemingly unimportant details; this adds depth and personality to the story and enables the reader to have a stronger grasp on the setting and characters and how they are woven together.

There is also something exotic and mystical about a historical setting; the grittiness seems darker and more threatening while the society and lifestyle creates a more glamorous and opulent feel.  I’ve always felt I that I was born in the wrong decade; reading historical mysteries helps me to channel my inner dreams.

Fun, quirky secondary characters
Remember, it is all about the characters for me.  Mystery books provide great opportunities for secondary characters to pop up over the course of a series.  These characters provide rich ambiance for the time period or foils for the different personalities of a protagonist.  They have the feel of that “crazy Aunt Edna” or “cousin Steve” that we all have in our families; the topic of holiday table conversations with details of their grand adventures, disasters, or both.  I think these characters add a dimension to the story to remind the readers that crime doesn’t occur in a bubble; life still goes on all around which is often what both helps and interferes with the solving of a crime.

Some of my favorite secondary characters are Bonnie Brock in the Lady Darby series, Sid and Gus in Rhys Bowen’s Molly Murphy mysteries, and Oscar in the Witchcraft mysteries by Juliet Blackwell.  Sometimes these characters are integral to the development of the plot, sometimes they create obstacles that interfere with the progression of the inquiry, and sometimes they just add a diversion of spice and humor to a darker theme.

Just a hint of romance
Okay, call me a hopeless romantic but I like a bit of a love story in my mysteries.  I like the tension between two characters when they aren’t sure who they can trust, and then how it builds to when they discover that must trust one another.  Relationships often cloud judgement and perception and this added depth creates more conflict in a story and therefore makes it more suspenseful for the reader.  I don’t ever want a relationship in a mystery book to take away from the mystery itself, but a good author with meld the two with thought and purpose.

I like how some relationships grow over the course of the series, like C.S. Harris’ Sebastian and Hero, Tasha Alexander’s Emily and Colin, or Julie Spencer-Fleming’s Russ and Clare.  In contrast, I enjoy how Ashley Weaver’s Amory and Milo stories jump right into an established marriage.  Then of course there is Brad Parks’ Carter Ross and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum; who knows if they will ever settle down!  What does Keanu Reeves’ character say in the movie Speed:  I have to warn you; I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work.  Ah, love . . .

Any other mystery buffs out there?  What are the “must-haves” for your favorite series?

Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday

maps

Four FAVORITE BOOK SETTINGS on Friday
I have to admit that I am Buzz Feed Quiz junkie.  You know, the ones that have you answer questions to determine which Disney Princess you are, which Hogwarts House you belong in, and which decade should you have lived in.  In order, Belle (no surprise there), Gryffindor (I wish I was that brave), and the 1950’s (pencil skirts and cocktail hour all the way!).  I recently saw one that “determined” your book interests based on travel preferences, and it got me thinking about settings.  I went through my list of all my favorite mystery writers . . . of course I have a list . . . and not too surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap of locations.  An honorable mention list must include New Orleans, Washington DC, and New York, but here are the four that made the final cut.

The United Kingdom
Big surprise there!  Obviously London – past and present – is number one of my list.  I have been an Anglophile forever, and although I have only had the opportunity to travel to the UK once, I love the juxtaposition between old and new, ancient and modern.  The history combined with all the cultural influences makes the setting full of literary opportunities.  With such a rich history, mysteries can be set in so many different time periods.  I love to read about the social customs and class mores that are indicative to each era.  Some of my favorite authors include maps of historical London and it is fascinating to see what has changed and what has stayed the same.

I love to read about modern London in Deborah Crombie’s Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James New Scotland Yard adventures, Regency London through the eyes of C. S. Harris’ Sebastian St. Cyr, and Victorian London’s Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch.

Of course, the great thing about the UK is that you can include Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.  My favorite mystery writer, Anna Lee Huber, sets her Georgian Lady Darby series in Scotland.  A modern day Wales is seen in Elizabeth Dunnett’s Penny Brannigan series and Rhys Bowen’s Evan Evans mysteries.

San Francisco
You have probably also noticed my love of San Francisco.  Ah, if money were no object . . . actually, it is an object, just one I don’t have a lot of!  Once again, it is a city with a lot of history and diversity.  With influences from the West and its role in the American Gold Rush and westward expansion history, there is a wealth of potential for conflict and personality.  The cultural and ethnic enclaves within the city are so vibrant that they are also individual and unique settings within the larger city.

I love Juliet Blackwell’s witchcraft series that is set in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco; the author does a great job at describing the tone and feel of this vibrant neighborhood.  Kate Carlisle is another favorite author of mine; her stories are set all around the heart of the city but she also travels up 101 across the Golden Gate Bridge to the wine country as well.  I just discovered Nancy Herriman’s novel of Old San Francisco set post Gold Rush and I look forward to more in that series.

New England
The crisp fall air.  The smell of apple pie.  The sound the pounding surf.  The sight of a dead body.  Don’t you love New England!!  Having lived in the Northeast, I quickly fell in love with the region and it truly does provide a wonderful backdrop to a great crime!  Seriously though, the history, the topography, and customs of decades old generations makes New England a great setting.

Quintessential New England towns provide the perfect setting for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Russ VanAlstyne and Clare Fergusson contemporary mysteries that feature a small town cop and an Episcopalian priest, and for Jenn McKinlay’s Library Lovers mysteries set in coastal Connecticut.  Kaitlyn Dunnett channels a Scottish heritage in the fictitious Moosetookalook, Maine.

France
Ironically, France had never been a place I had a huge desire to visit, until I was introduced to two great mystery series sent in this beautiful and culturally rich country.  Wine, cheese, the French Alps, the French Riviera.  Seriously, what was I thinking?  Of course I would love to go there!!

Two writers that I really enjoy include Mark Pryor and M.L. Longworth.  Mark Pryor’s Hugo Marston series is set mainly in Paris and I enjoy reading about both the famous and infamous stops that he visits within the city.  M.L. Longworth’s Verlaque and Bonnet series takes place in Aix-en-Provence, which is in southern France not too far from Marseille.  I really enjoy the contrast between the two geographically and culturally diverse areas.

Interesting . . . I have lived in two of these locations; perhaps it is time to move again?  As I wrote this, it got me thinking about specific places from novels that I have read that I would like to visit.  I think I see another blog post topic!  How about you?  What are your favorite book settings?

Home By Nightfall

Home by Nightfall

Title:  Home By Nightfall (Charles Lenox Mystery 9)
Author:  Charles Finch
Publisher:  Minotaur
Publication Date:  2015
ISBN:  978-1-250-07041-8

Book Summary:
It is London, 1876, and after a very challenging and disheartening start to his detective agency, former Member of Parliament, Charles Lenox, has settled well into his new career.  As a member of that part of society whom “trade” is considered below them, Lenox has spent many years helping Scotland Yard and indulging his own interests and queries by engaging in detective work.  By joining forces with two other detectives, the formulation of their agency solidifies his dedication to his talents.  However, Lenox realizes how this comfort of pursuing a career that he enjoys and enjoying the life of husband and father can be shattered when his older brother’s wife dies suddenly.

As Edmund retires to the Lenox family estate in Markethouse, Charles feels compelled to join his brother in concern for his health in his grief.  Furthering the depth of the loss of Molly, Edmund’s sons Teddy and James are away from England and have not heard the news.  While in Markethouse, Edmund oversees the care of his estate but also as its Member of Parliament, he administers legal counsel.  Arthur Hadley is a resident of Markethouse and a vice director of the Dover Limited Fire and Life Assurance Company.  He approaches Edmund and Charles with a perplexing story.  Upon his most recent return from traveling for work, Hadley came home to his house to find a candlelight in the window.  He then saw a face in the window that disappeared.  Nothing was stolen from the house and other than a disturbing chalk outline of a girl on his front stoop, nothing else was amiss. Hadley then reports that a few days later he was called out of town for a fire insurance claim that was a false report.  When he returned home, he discovered that a bottle of sherry was missing.  All this occurred while his charwoman, Mrs. Watson, was in the home.  Hadley has no reason to question Mrs. Watson’s dedication but fears for his own safety that someone is able to enter his home without his knowledge.  Edmund’s curiosity is peaked and because of this spark of interest in his brother, Charles agrees to take the case.

However, this is not the only case Charles has on his mind.  Back in London, famous German pianist Mueller was the talk of all London.  He recently played a concert, bowed to the audience, returned to his dressing room, and disappeared.  No trace of a violent struggle or any explanation of how he was able to leave the theater without being seen is evident.  Scotland Yard is thoroughly confused and under a great deal of pressure from the press, and the Queen herself, to discover the whereabouts of the missing pianist.  To make matters worse, Scotland Yard has asked for the assistance of LeMaire, a detective who was formerly with Lenox and his partners, but left to form a competing agency.  To top everything off, a number of Lenox’s discreet clients have left his agency for LeMaire.  There seems to be a traitor in their office.

Traveling back and forth between London and Markethouse, Charles tries to juggle the three cases.  When someone is viciously assaulted and a body is discovered, the pressure to solve the cases escalates and Charles must draw on all this investigative skills and powers of deduction to find a killer, a traitor, and a missing person.

Book Commentary:
The book jacket of the Charles Lenox books describes the stories as “equal parts Jane Austen and Charles Dickens,” and this is truly a fitting description.  I have followed the Charles Lenox books since the first one and the character has really grown and developed.  What I most appreciate about his character is his humanity; he makes mistakes, at times he can be a bit conceited, and yet, he is always a proper English gentleman.  The cases he solves are varied and complex, and the storytelling isn’t fast-paced, but rather engaging and thoughtful.

I love this series!  I usually am drawn to female protagonists in historical mysteries so this is a pleasant departure for me.  I enjoy the ways women must work within the confines of the society in which they live.  The Charles Lenox series follows a similar pattern as he must work within the parameters of the land-owning population of 1870’s English society.  The juxtaposition of Charles dining at his club and then running through the back streets of the seedy parts of London gives great dimension to his stories.  The author has a very dry wit and though not formal, writes in an elegant, refined manner.

Who might like this book:
If you like classic British mysteries then this book is for you.  The story is engaging and thoughtful with quite a bit of wit, personality, and humor.  This is a great series that I think appeals to both genders.  Author of the Lady Emily series Tasha Alexander often comments on her love of this series and that is a great endorsement for me!

Here is the series in order:
A Beautiful Blue Death
The September Society
The Fleet Street Murders
A Stranger in Mayfair
A Burial at Sea
A Death in the Small Hours
An Old Betrayal
The Laws of Murder