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Showing posts by: Charles Finch click to see Charles Finch's profile
Thu
Jul 27 2017 4:25pm

Charles Finch on His Charles Lenox Mystery Series

The year I turned either eleven or twelve I received a massive and distinguished hardcover edition of the collected Sherlock Holmes stories. It seemed like literally the worst present anyone had ever received: terrible, but also not cheap, and therefore tragic. That money could have been turned into perfectly good baseball cards.

I was a reader, though, so eventually I did glance inside the book. The first story was okay. The second was interesting. The third was…then I woke up, as if I were coming out of a fever, and realized that I had done nothing for days but read about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, M.D. When I reached the volume’s last page, I turned back to the first one again immediately—almost involuntarily—and started over.

I read that book to tatters over the next few years. Before long there were stories in it (The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb, The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter) that I knew virtually by heart.

Italo Calvino once said that the boredom of childhood is different, richer and more special than the boredom of adulthood, “full of dreams, a sort of projection into another place, another reality.” How deeply true that seems to me. As I turned thirteen and then fourteen and then fifteen, a dreamlike kind of England formed in my mind. I got there through reading, as surely as the Pevensies got to Narnia through the wardrobe; in a sense I have never left. The book you’re holding now is set there.

I wrote A Beautiful Blue Death during the summer of 2003. I had never been to England at the time. (Subsequently I lived there, and people often think, incorrectly, that I’m British. “Charles Finch, there’s an author by that name,” a librarian once said as I was checking a book out. “I think you may mean me,” I replied, a little red-faced. “No, he’s British.” “I really think you might mean me.” “No,” she said confidently, “he’s tall and handsome and British.” I waited for her to scan my book, thanked her, and left.)

At the time I was staying with my late grandmother, Anne Truitt. I was at work on a very complex literary novel, which is thankfully now several computers in my past. All my stacks of manuscript pages and legal pads were arranged on her dining room table, my pens, my pencils and erasers, the tools that I had fooled myself into thinking might make me capable of writing a book I wasn’t ready to write.

Every word I produced was agony, I think, in retrospect, because I knew somewhere in the distant depths of my brain that something was wrong.

Then suddenly, one morning, out of nowhere—though really it was out of Conan Doyle, and all his successors in my heart during my adolescent years: Wodehouse, Trollope, Eliot, Dickens, Sayers, Christie—I started to write about a cold London day in 1865. I didn’t know what was going to happen, or why I was doing it. But the words flowed effortlessly, like rainfall over cracked ground after a long dry spell, cathartic and welcome.

I’ve since spent ten books with the character that randomly came to me that day, Charles Lenox, a shrewd, humane, at times melancholy presence in my life. Writing a series is a long journey at close quarters – there have been mornings I couldn’t stand the sight of Lenox, or the friends and family who surround him, McConnell, Lady Jane, Toto, Graham, Edmund. (Conan Doyle briefly killed off Holmes, don’t forget.)

But for the most part I feel only joy in their company. This is in part, I think, because they are good people. Many mysteries, paradoxically, are a way of feeling happier about life. I would include my own among them. Each one has a different surface, a new crime, but the life beneath them is always the same: a man and the people he loves, and who love him, the slow passage of their lives together. Tea, toast, warm fires. When I look at A Beautiful Blue Death now I see easy fixes here and there that I could have made if I’d had more experience. But I also feel the same emotions now as I did on that first morning, the same sense of connection to a past where I wanted to while away my hours, living in their time, in a setting defined by powerful a familial sense of love.

And the mysteries are pretty fiendish puzzles too, if I may say so myself. It makes me happy to think of some young reader out there getting a set of them for his or her birthday—ticked off, at first, and then drawn by accident into this first tale, then the next, and the next, on and on: into that certain sensation of homecoming and safety that in the whole world of art only a series of many books, written about a single set of people we come to love, can truly give us.

 

Copyright © 2017 Charles Finch.

To learn more or order a copy, visit:

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Charles Finch is the author of the bestelling Charles Lenox mystery novels, including the forthcoming The Inheritance. His first standalone novel, The Last Enchantments, about a group of students at Oxford University, was published in 2014. He's a regular book critic for the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, and USA Today, and was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics' Circle award for criticism.

Wed
Oct 26 2016 3:00pm

A Series of Covers: Q&A between Charles Finch and David Rotstein

Often, the most tumultuous part of the publishing process is the creation of cover art. Responsible for hundreds of books a year, artists work tirelessly to create the perfect image to represent 300+ pages, and publishers, editors, sales reps, and marketers all weigh in with opinions that the artist has to absorb and consider. Tough!

But sometimes the process runs smoothly and produces perfection. Executive Art Director David Rotstein has worked on 10 covers for Charles Finch's Victorian era series, and each of them captures the suspense, character, and history in the books impeccably. 

Authors don't often get the chance to communicate directly with the artists, but to commemorate the 10th book in the Charles Lenox series, Charlie and David were able to get together to discuss what happens behind the scenes in this exclusive Q&A. 

[Read the full Q&A below!]

Tue
Oct 18 2016 10:03am
Excerpt

The Inheritance: New Excerpt

Charles Finch

Inheritance: A Charles Lenox Mystery by Charles Finch The Inheritance by Charles Finch is the 10th book in the Charles Lenox series (Available November 1, 2016).

Charles Lenox has received a cryptic plea for help from an old Harrow schoolmate, Gerald Leigh, but when he looks into the matter he finds that his friend has suddenly disappeared. As boys they had shared a secret: a bequest from a mysterious benefactor had smoothed Leigh’s way into the world after the death of his father. Lenox, already with a passionate interest in detective work, made discovering the benefactor's identity his first case – but was never able to solve it.

Now, years later, Leigh has been the recipient of a second, even more generous bequest. Is it from the same anonymous sponsor? Or is the money poisoned by ulterior motives? Leigh’s disappearance suggests the latter, and as Lenox tries, desperately, to save his friend’s life, he’s forced into confrontations with both the most dangerous of east end gangs and the far more genteel denizens of the illustrious Royal Society. When someone close to the bequest dies, Lenox must finally delve deep into the past to uncover at last the identity of the person who is either his friend’s savior – or his lethal enemy.

CHAPTER ONE

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, and in his study in Mayfair, Charles Lenox allowed his watchful eyes to rest upon the large set of windows at the opposite end of the room, the long room, far from the dying fire by which he sat.

He was alone in the house but for servants. His wife, Jane, and their four-year-old daughter, Sophia, were still at her brother’s house in the country, but business, on behalf of the detective agency of which he numbered one of the three partners, had drawn him back to London earlier than he had anticipated.

[Read the full excerpt from The Inheritance...]

Wed
Nov 4 2015 11:00am
Excerpt

Home by Nightfall: New Excerpt

Charles Finch

Home by Nightfall: A Charles Lenox Mystery by Charles Finch, James LangtonHome by Nightfall by Charles Finch is the 9th Victorian mystery featuring gentleman sleuth Charles Lenox (available November 10, 2015).

A death in the family brings gentleman sleuth Charles Lenox back to the country house where he grew up—just in time to confront an odd, unsettling crime in a nearby village.

It’s London in 1876, and the whole city is abuzz with the enigmatic disappearance of a famous foreign pianist. Lenox has an eye on the matter—as a partner in a now-thriving detective agency, he’s a natural choice to investigate. Just when he’s tempted to turn his focus to it entirely, however, his grieving brother asks him to come down to Sussex, and Lenox leaves the metropolis behind for the quieter country life of his boyhood. Or so he thinks. In fact, something strange is afoot in Markethouse: small thefts, books, blankets, animals, and more alarmingly a break-in at the house of a local insurance agent. As he and his brother begin to investigate this small accumulation of mysteries, Lenox realizes that something very strange and serious indeed may be happening, more than just local mischief. Soon, he’s racing to solve two cases at once, one in London and one in the country, before either turns deadly. Blending Charles Finch’s trademark wit, elegance, and depth of research, this new mystery, equal parts Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, may be the finest in the series.

Chapter One

It was a blustery London morning in the autumn of 1876, wind and rain heavy in the trees lining Chancery Lane, and here, damn it all, stood before Charles Lenox something that nobody should have to tolerate before breakfast: a beaming Frenchman.

“What is it, Pointilleux?” he asked.

“I have solve the case.”

“Oh?”

“I believe he has never enter the room at all.”

Lenox sighed. “Are those the papers you’re holding? Could I see them?”

“Do you not observe the elegance of it, though! He has never enter the room at all.

[Continue reading THome by Nightfall: A Charles Lenox Mystery by Charles Finch...]

Thu
Oct 16 2014 1:00pm

The Historical Villain: A Whodunnit in One Dimension

The golden age of the fictional villain—twirling his moustache, laughing Frenchly, tying women to train tracks—was the 19th century. In that innocent age, you could actually spook readers with a one-dimensional madman; you didn’t have to bother much with a motivation (unless it was money). But then the modern era came along and started producing real villains with such terrifying efficiency, villains beyond anything we could have imagined or would wish to exist in the world, that crime novelists were forced to respond.

What was a crime really for? What made a person do evil things? Money was still an answer, but there were others, too. Love—passion—the sick, logical, bureaucratic madness of the age. The villains of the hard-boiled genre that emerged in the 1930s and 1940s, in books by Raymond Chandler, Chester Himes, Dashiell Hammett, often combined those reasons, a whole host of contemporary reasons in service of a larger feeling of meaninglessness.

[Villains have feelings too!]

Thu
Nov 7 2013 6:30pm

Moneymaker: Victorian Ideas on Money and Mystery

Silas Marner filmEither money or madness is set at the center of nearly every mystery novel—and of course money itself can be a kind of madness. 

The Victorians knew as much.  Think of the eponymous miser of Silas Marner by George Eliot, the insanities that cluster around Wilkie Collins’s moonstone, or the crazed but calculating greed of Ebenezer Scrooge, which is only undone by ghostly visitations – or hallucinations, depending how you read the story.

The Victorians viewed money differently than we do, for instance, most families spent the enormous majority of their resources on food – one of the facts that makes it difficult to calculate exact equivalencies between money in their time and our own.

[A man's gotta eat, don't he?...]

Mon
Dec 12 2011 1:00pm

Victorian Criminal Laws: Barbarism and Progress

Mass hanging in EnglandThere is a law—a real, actual law—that existed in England until 1823: if a court adjudged a man to have committed suicide, his corpse had to be buried at a crossroads, with a stake through its heart. His family was forbidden to mourn.

When the British Parliament finally concluded that this practice was not so much sensible government policy as a deranged intrusion upon private tragedies, the child who would become Queen Victoria was three years old.  She took the throne a little more than a decade afterward.  When she had been upon it for twelve years, there was another remarkable judicial spectacle; in 1849 thirty thousand people gathered in London to watch the public execution, by hanging, of a husband and his wife.

[Execution as public spectacle; hardly decorous]

Fri
Nov 11 2011 10:30am

Who is Shakespeare?: “As If We Were Villains On Necessity”

In a lively market town in Warwickshire during the 1570’s, a leather merchant and glovemaker, formerly very prosperous, was edging toward financial ruin.  The courts prosecuted him–or perhaps only threatened to–for illegally trading in large quantities of wool and for usury, money-lending.  By 1576 he had to forfeit his public office.  There is almost no trace of him in the town records after that until his death, twenty-five years later.

This minor crime would be forgotten if it hadn’t been for one of the man’s children.  Not Gilbert, or Mary, or even Joan, though she lived a long life to tell stories about her brother.  No, the market town was Stratford-upon-Avon; the father was John Shakespeare; the son was William.

I bring this up because, unless he truly fled to London to escape charges of poaching the deer of a local landowner (a traditional but unlikely story), or participated secretly in the highly illegal Catholic church of the day (intriguingly possible), his father’s misdemeanors were likely the closest that Shakespeare ever came to criminal activity.  But a new and intensely stupid movie, Anonymous, which theorizes that the Earl of Oxford was the true author of Shakespeare’s plays, thinks differently.  In it, Shakespeare extorts the Earl for money to build the Globe Theater–thus clumsily trying to find a reason for the fact that in the film’s deranged worldview, a near-illiterate would have taken the time to construct the two most successful theaters in London during his lifetime–and, in the movie’s least dignified moment, is implied to have slit Christopher Marlowe’s throat.  Never mind that another group of fringe cranks believe it was Marlowe, not Oxford, who wrote Shakespeare.

[Who is the real fraud?]

Fri
Nov 4 2011 2:00pm
Excerpt

An East End Murder: New Excerpt

Charles Finch

An East End Murder by Charles FinchIt’s the end of winter 1865 when Charles Lenox agrees to investigate the death of Phil Jigg, a beloved neighborhood regular, found strangled on Great St. Andrews Street.

In a case that takes him through the noisy vendors and pickpockets, the rough-and-tumble back alleys and local pubs of the Seven Dials, Lenox looks for answers in a place that couldn’t feel more foreign from his West End home—and where his presence is anything but welcome.  The answer comes in the person of someone so ruthless and brutal that those who could help Lenox are terrified into silence.

What follows is an excerpt of the short story “An East End Murder,” now on sale as an ebook.

“Poor chap, Lenox murmured, walking up toward the scene of the crime. The still body sprawled along the cobblestones below him was cast over with the jaundice of evening lamplight. “You don’t know what his name was, do you?”

“Phil Jigg, according to one woman. I asked something like eight people about him.”

“Did she say anything else?”

The young bobby shook his head. “That was all, and she rushed off right quick.”

“It looks like strangulation.” Lenox pointed out the ring of deep scarlet around the man’s neck. “His head is at that slightly unnatural angle, too. Was there anything in his pockets?”

“Probably, Mr. Lenox, but of course the beggars and the boys would have given it the thrice-over and taken anything worthwhile. I only arrived here half an hour ago. Nothing was left.”

“Nothing at all?”

“Not even the buttons of his waistcoat.”

Lenox looked down and saw the man’s bare feet. “How about where he lived?”

“I wouldn’t guess Pall Mall, begging your pardon, sir.”

Lenox looked around the street, a long, deathly quiet one that by day would gradually become a carnival of pickpockets, jugglers, badger baiters, ball-and-cup shills, prostitutes, and street urchins who could turn a magic trick or do a few flips between the hansom cabs. It was famous, Great St. Andrew’s Street, though not one of the British Empire’s prouder adornments.

[Read more. . .]

Thu
Oct 27 2011 1:00pm
Excerpt

A Burial At Sea: New Excerpt

Charles Finch

A Burial at Sea by Charles Finch1873 is a perilous time in the relationship between France and England.  When a string of English spies is found dead on French soil, the threat of all-out war prompts government officials to ask Charles Lenox to visit the newly-dug Suez Canal on a secret mission.

Once he is on board the Lucy, however, Lenox finds himself using not his new skills of diplomacy but his old ones: the ship’s second lieutenant is found dead on the voyage’s first night, his body cruelly abused. The ship’s captain begs the temporarily retired detective to join in the hunt for a criminal.  Lenox finds the trail, but in the claustrophobic atmosphere on board, where nobody can come or go and everyone is a suspect, he has to race against the next crime—and also hope he won’t be the victim.

No matter how far Lenox strays from his old life, it will always come back to find him.

 

Chapter 1

He gazed out at the sunfall from an open second-floor window,
breathing deeply of the cool salt air, and felt it was
the first calm moment he had known in days. Between the                                   outfitting, the packing, the political conversations with his brother,
and a succession of formal meals that had served as shipboard
introductions to the officers of the Lucy, his week in Plymouth
had been a daze of action and information.

[Read the full excerpt of Chapters 1-2 . . .]