A Death in the Small Hours by Charles Finch is the 6th historical mystery in the Charles Lenox series (available November 13, 2012).
Charles Lenox plans a trip to his uncle’s estate hoping for a few calm weeks in which to write an important speech. When he arrives in the quiet village of Plumbley, however, what greets him is a series of small crimes and acts of vandalism at the local shops: broken windows, minor thefts, threatening scrawls. Only when a far more serious crime is committed does he begin to understand the great stakes of those events, and the complex and sinister mind that is wreaking fear and suspicion in Plumbley.
Charles Lenox is a gentleman, complete with club membership, family pedigree, and London mansion. As the latest book in the series opens, Charles is a sitting member of Parliament, and is clearly struggling with the concept that his days are now filled with politics rather than detection. He misses the intrigue that goes along with scouring the streets of Victorian London looking for clues that will lead to the breakthrough in a case.
While he saw Parliament as a duty—or in fact more than that, a complex of duties, ambitions, and vanities—detection had always been his truest vocation.
It is clear that Lenox has always been happiest when he is solving crimes and investigating cases, and let’s face it, as readers so are we. Sadly, though, he now sits in his plush London home poring over political papers, rather than case notes. Young Lord John Dallington, his protégé, is currently the most sought after private detective in London; a position formerly held by Lenox. Lenox used to be the go-to man when Scotland Yard lacked the resources to look into something, and now that honor goes to Dallington. Lenox must be satisfied with his and Dallington’s weekly suppers at the club where Dallington tells him all about his latest exploits.
Lenox is partially comforted by the fact that he and his wife, Lady Jane, have been blessed with a baby girl, whom he dotes on. He couldn’t be happier in his role as father and husband. Well I guess he could be happier, if he were also solving a crime. Therefore, when Lenox gets a chance to take his family on a trip to the country to visit Uncle Frederick and escape London and its political ties, he does not require much persuading. Knowing that Frederick is hoping he will look into a series of crimes plaguing the quiet village of Plumbley, only proves to sweeten the deal.
Once he arrives, Charles is in his element, and as a reader I am in mine. There is nothing like a small British village to make you think of crime solving, and Plumbley fits the bill perfectly.
It was an industrious place, full of handsome rows of gray houses. It had two public houses, the Royal Oak (named for the tree in which Charles the Second, pursued by Roundheads, had concealed his august personage) and the King’s Arms, which were in a semipermanent state of war, each with fierce partisans; a smithy; a butcher’s; a school; and a lovely village green. As Lenox walked down Woodend Lane, toward the fruit and vegetable seller’s, he could see twinned above Plumbley its two highest points, the small spire of St. Stephen’s church and the cupola of the town hall, freshly painted white, its resting bell, slightly louder than the church’s, ready to beat out the time as twelve o’clock in, oh, what now—he looked at his pocket watch—three minutes. Good, the shops wouldn’t have shut for lunch yet.
Lenox reacquaints himself with the villagers he knew when he visited as a boy, and gets to know the ones he’s never met. As he investigates, the seemingly small incidents of vandalism end up in murder and the stakes are raised higher than he expected. But Lenox rises to the occasion and ultimately solves the case, just in time to return to London and give an important speech to Parliament.
I really enjoy the Charles Lenox mystery series, and this installment does not disappoint. I was a bit skeptical when it started off with Lenox’s Parliamentary obligations, but was pleasantly surprised when he found a way to work crime solving into his busy schedule. If you enjoy traditional British mysteries, you will love these books.
Kerry Hammond has been an avid mystery reader ever since she discovered Nancy Drew at the age of 8. She enjoys all types of stories, from thrillers to cozies to historical mysteries.
See all of Kerry Hammond’s posts on Criminal Element.