"A Stranger In Mayfair" by Charles Finch
Minotaur, 308 pp., $24.99
Reviewed by David Marshall James
At a time when most men-- particularly those of noble birth and ample means, residing in 1867 London-- are settling into middle-aged routine, Sir Charles Lenox is throwing over his thoroughly contented bachelorhood as a private detective (strictly pro bono), often assisted by his physician friend, Dr. Thomas McConnell, and his Man Friday (official title: butler) Graham.
However, Lenox has been recently elected to the House of Commons; Graham is elevated to the post of Lenox's private secretary in Parliament; and the Good Doctor and his wife are fast awaiting a blessed event.
Moreover, Lenox has married his lifelong friend and next-door neighbor on Hampden Lane in Mayfair, the widowed Lady Jane Grey.
As this fourth Lenox mystery commences, Sir Charles and Lady Jane are on the threshold of returning from their summertime honeymoon in Europe to a conjoined household.
Upon their arrival, a fellow M.P., Ludovic Starling, approaches Lenox about investigating the murder of one of his young footmen.
Jane is far from thrilled: Isn't Lenox going to drop his investigations and concentrate on his obligations to the State?
Lenox himself has misgivings, but Graham is proving hyper-efficient at handling all the humdrum of scheduling, paper shuffling, and meeting and greeting the Right People in the hallowed halls of government.
Lenox is also assisted-- solely on the detecting front-- by young Lord John Dallington, who was sent down from Cambridge for disreputable and dissolute behavior. Nevertheless, Lenox is making something of an honest man of Dallington, who has cut down considerably on the champers and carousing.
Nonetheless, Dallington's reputation has preceded him, often presenting stumbling blocks to his detection; whereas, Lenox's newfound status as M.P. has earned him greater respect as a detective in many quarters.
However, the flip side of that farthing is that his freshly minted title also renders him ripe for the picking by the press.
Because of the rapid changes-- the flux of Lenox's life-- this fourth novel marks a departure from the earlier titles in author Charles Finch's series.
The mystery line of the story-- the case of the murdered footman-- proves solvable early on, owing largely to the presentation of a too-vital clue. Finch, a writer to has fingertips, slips with two continuity breaks. For instance, at the close of one chapter, Lenox and Dallington are riding off from Hampden Lane in a coach. At the opening of the following chapter, they are back in the residence, awaiting said coach.
Nevertheless, this blog remains solidly in favor of Finch's polished stylistics and plentiful period details. The novel blooms whenever Finch is forthcoming with his wry humor. A dinner gathering at Ludovic Starling's manse, as well as two soirees (one given by Lady Jane, the other by the McConnells) are especially well presented.
A new character, Finch's parliamentary scrivener, drips comedic potential like a cracked bottle of India ink.
With Finch so adept at Dickensian flourishes, with his being so right to be writing this series, it would be a shame to see Lenox morosely mired in a gloomy conflict between his avocational pursuits and his newfound duties.
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