First Sentence: The two brothers stood motionless upon the top step of a fine London townhouse, each with arms crossed, assessing a correspondingly motionless pair of trees propped against a railing.
Lt. Ernest Austen of the Grenadier Guards has disappeared. Charles Lenox is trying to establish his detective agency, the first of its kind, but having little luck. Even Scotland Yard is so baffled, they’ve agreed to have Lenox consult. Solving this case would give him credibility and recognition. But can he solve it?
One of the many things to love about Finch’s writing is his use of humor, whether it’s about life, death—“Death is the great spiritual adventure toward which all living things mush lean forward in hope and humility, in neither fear or anger.”--or Christmas trees--"Well," said Charles, signing, "I hope it may last the next three days, anyhow." "Until Christmas morning." "Yes, then it can slink off to some corner and die.".
It is always interesting learning about the customs of a period, and that they relate to Christmas makes them even more so. The tradition of Lenox; father, is quite progressive for the time. Yet one of the best things about a prequel is to learn more about the protagonists and their history.
Finch creates wonderful analogies—“France and England were rather like an unhappy couple out to supper at friends’: not presently at war, except in the sense that they were continually at war.” His descriptions are evocative—“There was evidence all over it of wealth, and ancient lineage—tapestries on the walls, enormous hunting scenes in oils, tables of marble…”. His use of language is a treat—“…he discovered that the next train was in ninety minutes. He set out to see the wonders of Ipswich for himself. When that was finished, he had eighty-seven minutes left…” It is elements such as these, along with learning bits of information such as how the term “butler” came to be, that makes reading Finch such a pleasure.
“Gone Before Christmas” is a lovely story for the holidays with just the right balance of seriousness and sentimentality.
GONE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (Hist Mys-Charles and Edmund Lenox-London-1887) – VG+
Finch, Charles (eBook Novelette)
Minotaur Books – Dec 2017