As the winter chill hardens and the leaves turn, I find myself inexorably drawn to cozy mysteries. They always seem like the perfect reading matter for snuggling in bed with a steaming cup of cocoa as the wind whistles outside, rattling the windows just a hair eerily. Usually, I return to classics like the Sherlock Holmes stories or my favorite Agatha Christie novels, however, I have been making a point to expand my mystery-reading horizons.
Last winter, while in cozy mode, I stumbled across the Charles Lenox mysteries. At that time, I reviewed the first book A Beautiful Blue Death. This fall, I read my way through the entire series, including the latest title An Old Betrayal.
The Charles Lenox mysteries are, in essence, a trip back in time to the golden age of detective fiction, when gentlemen (or women) sleuths like Hercule Poirot and Lord Peter Wimsey enchanted readers. These aristocratic detectives of the 1920s and 1930s are, in turn, descendents of some of the earliest gentlemen sleuths of the Victorian Era, C. Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, and Arsène Lupin. And, it is precisely in the Victorian Era that Finch unleashes his gentleman detective.
The middle-aged younger brother of a baronet, Charles Lenox leads a quiet life in London, content to be an armchair traveler, a hobby intellectual, and a sociable bachelor. Affable and well-respected, Lenox nonetheless becomes embroiled in the less-than-reputable world of detective work when, in the first book, his best friend Lady Jane finds one of her servants has unexpectedly committed suicide. Unlike the whimsical Lord Wimsey or the eccentric Sherlock Holmes, Lenox has a reputation to uphold. It is this struggle between Lenox’s sense of station and his love of detective work that drives him as a character. At heart, Lenox wants to do right by his fellow man, whether it’s by solving murders or by lobbying for the poor in parliament.
While the detective and his supporting cast of friends and family do give Finch’s stories their characteristic coziness, it’s his skill as a mystery plotter that is the focal point and greatest draw in all his books.
An Old Betrayal is no exception. What first appears to be a simple favor for a friend–meet a new client–quickly escalates into a complex case of impersonation, feuds, murder, and thievery that ultimately puts the monarchy in jeopardy. Finch does an excellent job of leaving just enough breadcrumbs for those who like to figure out mysteries without exposing too much of the denouement until the very end. After the dust has settled and the culprit is revealed, it is also clear how all the clues fit together.
Fans of the early books in the Charles Lenox mysteries will be delighted to find many of the tropes of Finch’s writing alive and well in An Old Betrayal. Finch continues to improve as a writer, while including the fun historical details and light sense of humor characteristic of his early work. Lenox’s relationship with the key supporting characters in the story–Lady Jane, his best friend McConnell, McConnell’s wife and Lady Jane’s best friend Toto, his protege Lord Dallington, and his butler Graham–continue to grow and evolve, adding social drama.
At the same time, An Old Betrayal is very much a departure and an unexpected new beginning for this seasoned series. The relatively stable universe that Finch has built in the first six books of the series shows the first signs of a tectonic shift in An Old Betrayal. Finch takes the plot in an unexpected but intriguing new direction, one that I hope signals the second phase of an extended series.
A special thanks to St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur for providing me with an advanced reading copy of An Old Betrayal, which goes on sale next week on November 12th, and for sponsoring a giveaway of the first three books in the Charles Lenox series.
For a chance to win copies of A Beautiful Blue Death, The Fleet Street Murders, and The September Society, post your name and email address below, along with the name and author of your favorite mystery book! The winner will be selected at random on November 12th and contacted via email.