Author: Charles Finch
My Copy: ARC courtesy of Minotaur Books
Add to: Goodreads
Synopsis: On a spring morning in London, 1875, Charles Lenox agrees to take time away from his busy schedule as a Member of Parliament to meet an old protégé’s client at Charing Cross. But when their cryptic encounter seems to lead, days later, to the murder of an innocuous country squire, this fast favor draws Lenox inexorably back into his old profession.
Soon he realizes that, far from concluding the murderer’s business, this body is only the first step in a cruel plan, many years in the plotting. Where will he strike next? The answer, Lenox learns with slowly dawning horror, may be at the very heart of England’s monarchy.
Ranging from the slums of London to the city’s corridors of power, the newest Charles Lenox novel bears all of this series’ customary wit, charm, and trickery—a compulsive escape to a different time.
It’s always a treat to settle down with a Charles Finch novel and An Old Betrayal doesn’t disappoint. An Old Betrayal is the seventh book in the Charles Lenox series and if you haven’t read the series, you can delve right in since most books can be read as a standalone. Finch isn’t one to drown the reader in a character’s back story and therefore I do recommend you start from the beginning with A Beautiful Blue Death, but it’s not necessary.
Set in 1875, An Old Betrayal picks up a year after A Death in the Small Hours ends. Former gentleman detective turned Member of Parliament, Charles Lenox, finds himself busy in the House of Commons and as Junior Lord of the Treasury. When the opportunity arises to assist his former protégé, Lord John Dallington, Lenox can’t say no and begins to oversee the case himself. Unfortunately, Lenox finds his duties in Parliament limits the amount of time he’s able to devote and soon comes to realize his investigative skills are a bit rusty. Still he presses on with the investigation and little does he know, the case is about to become more complicated; impersonation and murder entwine along with a possible plot involving Queen Victoria. Lenox and Dallington also grapple with the arrival of a new detective agency looking to compete with Dallington.
It can be difficult for readers new to a series to pick up a book mid-series since most of the character development has occurred in the earlier books. By the third or fourth book, an author has a good grasp on the characters and won’t go into detail regarding who they are. Finch, however, continues to develop his characters. In the past, I’ve privately criticized Lady Jane and referred to her as, dull as ditch water but in An Old Betrayal we find our footing with Jane. There’s a particular scene where she shows us who she truly is and it was quite fun getting to know her all over again. Toto and McConnell make an appearance and while I still think it’s a bit too brief, we get new insight to Toto’s relationship with McConnell. I daresay, this is probably the first time readers will truly understand Toto’s feelings for McConnell and I’ve been critical of Toto in the past, but mostly due to her behavior regarding McConnell. That being said, I do worry about these two very much. Other well known characters make an appearance and Finch introduces us to several new ones. No doubt readers will relish getting to know them.
The writing is classic Finch with beautiful and rich descriptions. I did find An Old Betrayal to be filled with more humor when compared to the previous novels. Lenox’s humor is more apparent when he’s around his daughter. There’s a particular scene involving Sophia and Lenox makes an observation that she won’t be an apprenticed seamstress in the near future. Overall, I really enjoyed the personal touches Finch makes us take note of. As with previous novels, Finch interweaves historical facts with his narrative. Readers will walk away knowing the origin of the soup kitchen as well as the terms hogwash and magazine. We also get a bit of a history lesson involving the Jacobites and how the House of Hanover (which Queen Victoria was the last British monarch to descend from) came to be. Salic law dictates that no female could inherit the Kingdom of Hanover and its territories unless there were no male heirs. In the case of Victoria, her uncle Ernest Augustus inherited since he was the son of George III and Victoria was just his granddaughter.
What I really enjoyed about An Old Betrayal is that Finch makes us question the loyalty of old friends. Most fans of the Lenox series regard Lenox, McConnell, Jenkins, and company as dear friends. In real life, sometimes a friend’s action will leave us questioning their character, etc. I’m not going to go into detail regarding the two characters because I don’t want to spoil things, but will say this: you’ll be left surprised and disappointed. When things get resolved you’ll be angry for having an ounce of doubt. Finch makes you care about the fate of his characters and if the events involving two beloved characters made me feel as if a stake was going through my heart, I can’t imagine what will happen if Finch ever decides to kill off a character.
With regards to the mystery, it is a bit weak and connected to two subplots. Some might criticize the use of these subplots, but they are necessary and vital to the plot. Readers not familiar with Finch’s writing style may find this to be cumbersome. Finch isn’t the type of author to wrap up a mystery nicely and always goes beyond the solving of a case to provide the reader with additional information. I always have fun trying to solve the mystery alongside Lenox and in the past, he’s made me admit defeat. While I want to admit and gloat that I figured out, I can’t. I partially guessed the impersonation aspect since a few things didn’t sit well, but the reason behind the motive is where I failed. I also failed with regards to another character who I swore was involved, but alas Lenox had more faith in this person than I did.
Overall, Charles Finch’s An Old Betrayal is a highly enjoyable read. I always have fun traipsing through London with Lenox. It’s always a treat to read a book by an author who actually takes the time to reflect on the past and while we very much hold true to a vision of a particular past (not every ancestor lived in a grand mansion with servants about, some of us do descend from laborers), it’s nice to read a book by an author who actually takes the time to reflect on it. There’s a particular scene in which a member of the House of Commons complains about the traffic in London and I can’t help but chuckle. The poor dear would have an apoplexy with today’s traffic.
Readers of the series will be surprised by the ending and I’m looking forward to the new possibilities that will present themselves.
A Beautiful Blue Death
On any given day in London, all Charles Lenox, Victorian gentleman and armchair explorer, wants to do is relax in his private study with a cup of tea, a roaring fire and a good book. But when his lifelong friend Lady Jane asks for his help, Lenox cannot resist another chance to unravel a mystery, even if it means trudging through the snow to her townhouse next door.
One of Jane’s former servants, Prudence Smith, is dead – an apparent suicide. But Lenox suspects something far more sinister: murder, by a rare and deadly poison. The house where the girl worked is full of suspects, and though Prudence dabbled with the hearts of more than a few men, Lenox is baffled by an elusive lack of motive in the girl’s death.
When another body turns up during the London season’s most fashionable ball, Lenox must untangle a web of loyalties and animosities. Was it jealousy that killed Prudence? Or was it something else entirely, something that Lenox alone can uncover before the killer strikes again – disturbingly close to home?
The September Society
The sitting room looked as familiar as the back of his hand, and immediately Lenox took a liking to the young man who inhabited it. He saw several small artifacts of the missing student’s life—a frayed piece of string about two feet long of the sort you might bind a package with, half of a pulpy fried tomato, which was too far from the breakfast table to have been dropped, a fountain pen, and lastly, a card which said on the front The September Society. . . .
In the small hours of the morning one fall day in 1866, a frantic widow visits detective Charles Lenox. Lady Annabelle’s problem is simple: her beloved son, George, has vanished from his room at Oxford. When Lenox visits his alma mater to investigate, he discovers a series of bizarre clues, including a murdered cat and a card cryptically referring to the September Society.
Then, just as Lenox realizes that the case may be deeper than it appears, a student dies, the victim of foul play.
What could the September Society have to do with it? What specter, returned from the past, is haunting gentle Oxford? Lenox, with the support of his devoted friends in London’s upper crust, must race to discover the truth before it comes searching for him, and dangerously close to home.
The Fleet Street Murders
The third book in the Charles Lenox series finds the gentleman detective trying to balance a heated race for Parliament with the investigation of the mysterious simultaneous deaths of two veteran reporters. It’s Christmas, 1866, and amateur sleuth Charles Lenox, recently engaged to his best friend, Lady Jane Grey, is happily celebrating the holiday in his Mayfair townhouse. Across London, however, two journalists have just met with violent deaths–one shot, one throttled. Lenox soon involves himself in the strange case, which proves only more complicated as he digs deeper. However, he must leave it behind to go north to Stirrington, where he is fulfilling a lifelong dream: running for a Parliamentary seat. Once there, he gets a further shock when Lady Jane sends him a letter whose contents might threaten their nuptials. In London, the police apprehend two unlikely and unrelated murder suspects. From the start, Lenox has his doubts; the crimes, he is sure, are tied, but how? Racing back and forth between London and Stirrington, Lenox must negotiate the complexities of crime and politics, not to mention his imperiled engagement. As the case mounts, Lenox learns that the person behind the murders might be closer to him–and his beloved–than he knows.