A perfect holiday read

Title: The Inheritance by Charles FinchPublisher: Minotaur Books 304 pp November 2016

Genre: mystery, English historical mystery, series, Charles Lenox, fiction, 

4.5+ stars

Author: Charles Finch is the author of the bestselling Charles Lenox mystery series, The Inheritance being the 10th installment. The Last Enchantments (2014) was his first stand alone novel, about a group of students at Oxford. He is a book critic for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today. Recently he was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award.

Story line: This is really a not to be missed series. Start at the beginning! Charles Lenox is an eminent Victorian detective with a penchant for solving unusual cases. As a boy at Harrow (Eton’s rival, more sophisticated and smarter) he was never able to determine the MB, mystery benefactor, of another student Gerald Leigh. Thirty years later Leigh contacts Lenox over another anonymous legacy, but then goes missing. Through a series of flashbacks with current events, rich period detail peels away layers of intrigue. There are several mysteries involving our usual well loved characters, which take place over 6 months of 1877, from a cold snowy January in London to what amounts to an English summer. You won’t want to miss catching up with Lady Jane, Dr McConnell, his two partners Polly Buchanan and Lord Dallington, his older brother Sir Edmund, Charles former butler, now an MP and so many more. I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting and compelling read, especially in light of recent political events. The world receded. It is a well written, thoroughly engrossing, historical novel with fascinating Victorian details: Pasteur, microbes, fish and chips, Churchill, Parliament, the Royal Society, plagiarism, farthings, and Lennox musings on friendship, love, egotism and current events. Finch has an eye for evocative detail e.g. it’s not just a pencil, but a charcoal pencil and the letter is sealed with a signet ring.

Read on:

Chris Nickson, Will Thomas, Bruce Holsinger. CS Challinor, David Liss

Quotes:

London was silent with snow, soft flakes of it dropping evenly into the white streets, nobody outside who had somewhere inside to be. It was the third day of the year. Already the light was fading, though it was scarcely past two o’clock in the afternoon,

But not enough business, alas, to keep him occupied for more than a few hours the previous afternoon, so that on this lonely endless Sunday he had already reorganized the long rows of books that lined the walls, had gone through several pots of tea—and above all had waited, waited, waited, all the infinite day through for a certain visitor to come.

Lenox was forty-seven now—a tall and thin man, with a close brown beard and a thoughtful, kindly, but undeceived face—and had been a detective since roughly the age of twenty-two, first as a private investigator, now as a professional in the agency he had founded with two close friends. (For several years between these stages of his career, he had been in Parliament, the ancient family game, but that was all in the past now.)

Kirk raised his eyebrows very slightly, which was the equivalent in him of asking outright whether Lenox had gone insane, and perhaps needed to check into a sanatorium known for its particular specialty in madness, and should he call a doctor.

“Cabs, you know, is what we started calling them at the advent of the modern period, oh, a thousand years ago.”

Leigh had been famous within the houses for the most part as a singularly awful student.

Rackham up—the driver being an unrepentant dipsomaniac, who had concealed within his cloak and breeches at all times, like a pirate with never fewer than thirteen knives stowed away upon his person, various bottles of alcohol.

Their third and final partner, Lord John Dallington, was a wry, handsome young fellow of thirty, youngest son of a duke and duchess, who in his earlier years of adulthood had earned a terrible reputation as a rake—but had mostly reformed of drinking and late nights now, and possessed a tremendous innate gift for detection, even if he was prone, still, to the occasional lost night.

There were several detectives, all formerly of the Yard, who worked for the agency. The bulk of their business was commercial: acting more swiftly and with greater energy than the police could on behalf of various businesses when they had internal troubles…

“You would hate my work, if you are so easily dispirited by the depths of behavior to which our species can descend.

“I can’t believe we have found someone Debrett’s knows and you do not!” said Dallington. “A Member of the House of Lords. Dear, dear. What will Lady Jane say?”

He was more than a talisman, but his good cheer, his idle words, his neat appearance, Lenox realized, were essential to the happy workings of the agency.

The single stupidest person Lenox had ever met was Georgie Cholmondley, now Lord April, who had been at Harrow at the same time that he and Leigh had.

“We could have a look around Truro.” “Yes, that should be a thrilling eight minutes.”

Upon the fourth finger of her left hand was a ring, set with a diamond. In Lenox’s day the women’s engagement rings had been, without exception, of pearl and turquoise, but according to Dallington this was the new vogue, the diamond.

When Napoleon had ordered the execution of the Duc d’Enghien, it was said, he had done worse than commit a crime—he had committed a blunder.

it rained steadily and torrentially, the light washed out of the sky, the people washed out of the streets.

Seated between them, curling her fingers through her doll’s hair, was Sophia, who had stood near Polly with a basket of flowers, eaten too much soup, had a tantrum, and fallen asleep in her chair. Not one of her finest performances.

“No, it’s not magic, the future—it’s science.”
Received as an ARC ebook from Netgalley. Available from Rochester Public Library

Time Abroad is Never Wasted

 

The Last Enchantments by Charles Finch. Given the title and the name of the author I thought “Oh! Another Victorian mystery, but set in Oxford!” As in the gentlemen detective Charles Lennox in 7 erudite mysteries, with the 8th to be published this year The Laws of Murder. This book, however, is contemporary literary fiction, with more than a twist of memoir I suspect. It is also a well written, readable, interesting thought provoking novel. The privileged WASP protagonist is in his mid twenties, somewhat immature, naive and untempered, feeling adrift with the political campaign loss. He decides to take a hiatus/sabbatical (i.e graduate studies in literature) at Oxford. It is an older coming of age story, concerning a contemporary generation and gender I am somewhat removed from. I thought Will was a cad with unusual remarkable American charm, but still a bounder. That you like him and sympathize with his interior life is due primarily to excellent writing, clever plotting and intriguing host of characters which are integral to the story. Certainly an interesting perspective of the younger generation, with literary twists. The atmosphere is spot on, with wonderful descriptions of British academia and Oxford. The title is a relevant, haunting Mathew Arnold quote from his Essays in Criticism (1865): “Oxford whispering from her towers the last enchantments of the Middle Age . . . Home of lost causes, and forsaken beliefs, and unpopular names, and impossible loyalties!”

Thoughts of this book lingered over several discussions concerning the themes of this book. Who are the speech writers of campaigns, how young is idealism, what differences in American and British universities, cultural differences in generation and privilege (the phrase American pet irks), noting marriage is no longer the next step on graduating (either high school or college), men’s behaviour vs women’s, teenage to adult angst – while I am also hunting for the greater good and personal responsibility. I understand a sense of greater freedom, perhaps more potential, but those aren’t irrevocably lost by aging.

“When you’re finally grown-up, one of the things you find is that there are no grown-ups.”

You will like this if you are a reader (great literary references), an English major (including former degrees!), an expat, anyone who loves the magic of Oxford (as the town plays a central character) or an academic (without having to experience office politics). I am ready to go back to his Victorian era any time too.