Thursday, July 8, 2021

An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch

First Sentence: It was a sunny, icy late morning in February of 1878, and a solitary figure, lost in thought, strode along one of the pale paths winding through St. James's Park in London.

British Enquiry Agent, Charles Lennox, solved a case that brings down Scotland Yard with the three top men headed to trial. Prime Minister Disraeli determines it best that Lennox is not in England during the trial and sends him to the United States with the Queen's Seal on a tour of the East Coast law enforcement agencies. 1878 Newport, Rhode Island; a place of extreme wealth and self-indulgence. A place of new money, and a focus on marrying well. The murder of a young woman of the first diamond doesn't fit into this scenario. Lennox's help is requested.

Finch does an excellent job of providing a summary of Lennox's background, as well as folding in that of his wife's, Lady Jane. However, it is confusing that the case for which Lennox is being lauded falls into a huge gap in the series storyline: When did Lennox and Jane have a second child? When did Polly and Dallington, Charles' partners in the agency, get married? And most of all, what was the case that brought down Scotland Yard? Either this reviewer blanked out this information, or Finch and/or his publisher just decided to skip a book and these annoying little details.

In Lenox's getting to know New York, Finch presents the stark contrast between the wealthy and the laboring class very well, demonstrating compassion but not dismissiveness or pity. Lenox's excitement is tangible as he crosses the border from New York to Connecticut, consulting his little book of maps showing the thirty-eight states, until one learns the origin of the word "shrapnel," and later the term "I heard it through the grapevine." Those small bits of information lend richness to the story.

Just as with the contrast in settings, Finch displays the contrasts in characters and their lives with the working class and merchants of the town, to the very wealthy "cottage" owners such as the Vanderbilts and Mrs. Astor. As is often true, some of the most interesting characters are those of ex-soldier James Clark, and Fergus O'Brian, the Irish valet,

It is interesting to see Lenox dogged determination and attention to detail as he investigates every aspect and every possible suspect. The details of how and why Lily, the victim, was killed are laid out perfectly and done in a scene of edge-of-seat suspense rather than the more pedestrian style of Christie. The final chapters are heart-warming, especially the requests he makes on behalf of others.

"An Extravagant Death" is just shy of being excellent, in part due to a scene at the end. The mystery is well done with some secondary characters nearly stealing the show. It will be interesting to see where the series goes from here.

AN EXTRAVEGEANT DEATH (EnqAgent-Charles Lenox-Newport, RI/NYC-1878) – G+
Finch, Charles – 14th book in series
Minotaur Books, Feb 2021, 277 pp

1 comment:

  1. I already really like the setting and context for this one. It sounds like a fascinating story, too, but I'm especially drawn to a well-written historical novel where I really feel I'm 'there.' Glad you enjoyed this.

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