From time to time I ask myself: Why do I keep reading and watching stories about Britain’s upper class? One can easily conclude that they were greedy parasites, fattening their landholdings and fortunes as they sucked up the spoils of Britain’s colonial empire. When historian Simon Schama recently called “Downton Abbey” “a steaming, silvered tureen of snobbery,” I nodded in agreement, then went back to watching the reruns.
So it goes with me and the Charles Lenox mysteries by Charles Finch, a highly regarded book reviewer for the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. I feel guilty about reading them, and I can’t wait for the next one.
Charles Lenox is an upper-class Victorian gentleman who solves crimes. It’s his passion, fueled by a rapier-sharp intellect and a distaste for the boredom of gentility. He ardently loves his family, his dogs and his horses, but his skepticism about the English class system has led him into some unusual moves, such as helping his butler rise from butlerdom to secretary to a Parliament member to member of Parliament himself (hey, it is fiction).
In the ninth and latest novel, “Home by Nightfall,” Lenox is helping his grieving brother Edmund recover from the death of his beloved wife. He travels to the ancestral home in Sussex to keep his brother company and is drawn into a mystery there. Then another mystery, this one London-based, involving a missing German pianist, pops up. The gears of both plots are wound, and off we go.
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Finch is a clever plotter and assiduous researcher – his descriptions of Victoriana are worth the price of the book. If you are a mystery addict seeking an escape hatch from the 21st century, check out this series by an elegant writer at the top of his form.
Home by Nightfall
By Charles Finch
St. Martin’s Minotaur, 294 pages