Victorian-Era Mystery Another Good Show

"A Death in the Small Hours" by Charles Finch
Reviewed by David Marshall James

The Lenoxes of London are bound for the countryside, to an estate in Somerset called Everley, near a village called Plumbley, in late September 1874.

It's a place wrought up with nostalgia for Sir Charles Lenox-- accompanied by wife Jane, baby daughter Sophia, and her governess, along with some of the townhouse help from Hampden Lane, in London-- residence to a succession of squires, the latest of which, Frederick Ponsonby, being his "familiar" uncle.

Actually, Uncle Freddie is first cousin to Charles's late mother, and her favorite relative among her extended family. Charles's fondest memories of his mother are invariably and inextricably entwined with Uncle Freddie.

Ostensibly, Charles is seeking a venue apart from the hurly-burly of London, away from incessant visitors to Hampden Lane from the world of politics, tossing out entreaties and unsolicited advice on matters great and small.

Nothing like a bit of fresh air to cleanse the mental palate, away from the smoke-choked streets of the capital, from its smoke-filled rooms of politicians

Uncle Freddie's invitation to Everley, with its reference to vandalism and threatening messages at some of Plumbley's shops, couldn't possibly be a mitigating factor in Charles's decision to pay an extended call, now couldn't it?

When a murder is committed on the village green, during the titular "small hours," it'll take an act of Parliament to pull Charles back to London before he detects the solution to the crime.

In his sixth Lenox mystery, author Charles Finch builds the plot-- peopled with a memorable panoply of village personages-- with aplomb. Lenox's protege, Lord John Dallington, also returns. Dallington has gone on to pursue the detective work that Lenox realizes, even moreso in this story, is his own true avocation.

As a delightful side dish, Finch supplies a cricket match between the longtime-rival village pubs, while love blooms in Uncle Freddie's much beloved and tenderly tended English country garden, for several pairs of characters.

Over all, the author drapes a pleasing mantle of period sentimentality, particularly pertaining to the passage of time and the realignment of memories against changing people, places, and circumstances. At its peak moments, the story captures something of Dickens as well as something of Conan Doyle.

Happily Everley After, indeed. Readers of this increasingly involving mystery series will want to see more of Somerset and its Plumbley villagers.