In between books I picked up the first book in the Charles Lenox Mysteries, A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch. I read this book as part of the Historic Fiction Reading Challenge hosted by Historical Tapestry.
The HF Reading Challenge required one thing….the book must by set in a historic setting so that means any genre (mystery, sci-fi, YA, fantasy….anything.
I don’t really know too much about the series but the books sounded like they would be right up my alley. I saw the series listed on Goodreads and they had favorable reviews from readers. The are more or less a remake of the Sherlock Holmes Mysteries and since I have read many of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries I thought these would be a modern twist on an old classic.
The series follows protagonist Charles Lenox who is a wealthy gentleman who resides in the posh/exclusive London address of Mayfair. He is what most readers refer to as the ‘armchair explorer/detective’. Because he is independently wealthy he has lots of time on his hands…and he has a very analytical mind and pays attention to details. He has a great ability to deduce little things which no one else seems to make heads or tails of (like Holmes in that way at least).
Though it is clear the series is modeled after Holmes, it does have a distinct flair all its own. In this book, Lenox is asked by his neighbor, Lady Jane, to research a possible murder of her upstairs maid Prudence Smith. Though everyone involved seems to think it is suicide initially, Lenox manages to prove it is not suicide but rather murder via a rare poison called bella indigo, which is more or less nightshade. Then when he thinks he has the murderer identified, that person is also murdered. Eventually he solves the case in brilliant though be it dramatic fashion. Somewhere in the middle of all the scheming and hypothesizing he clearly starts to develop feelings for his friend and neighbor Lady Jane…but surly we will read more about that romance in future books :).
The story itself is pretty interesting as it focuses on a variety of different suspects and motives–none seem more likely than the other until we get more into the story. I liked the use of nightshade as the murder weapon….a very different very dark way to die but yet very romantic in some ways, it was unique. Listening to Lenox consider each suspect was interesting….it was like rearranging pieces in a puzzle….or board game perhaps….Clue maybe…..’Mrs Peacock in the Library with the rope’.
The motive and final conclusion were appropriate I think in some ways, a little rushed and disorganized at times but rather fitting. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next installment, he kind of left a little loose end with the final chapter but still….gotta leave ’em with something to come back to right?
I will have to admit, I was excited to see it had been nominated for the Agatha Award but some of the reviews I read about the series indicated it was not bad but not good either….just bland I guess. But it had all the things which I love most….Old foggy Victorian London setting, fun setting characteristics such as gas lit streets, eccentric characters, and Gothic/darkish/Victorian-ish like elements such as murder by poisoning.
To be sure it was entertaining and I really like a lot of the elements and overall structure…I will also probably read the other three books in the series because this was simply that….entertaining. It wasn’t ground breaking or horribly suspenseful…..just a nice easy read. I wouldn’t say ‘mindless’ but also not a real thinker. In some ways predictable but in other surprising. I loved that Finch had a lot of little interesting bits of knowledge.
I thought these little bits of charm and knowledge of the historic period helped the novel along. Finch knows lots about all the London gentleman clubs and the other social habits of the ‘aristocratic’ members of society, and about the financial ruin and politics plaguing the empire. He also was able to show a broad understanding of the period and characters by also knowing about the darker haunts of London such as The Rookery district. So over all kuddos to Finch for doing his research and knowing his period and material!
I think what didn’t make me LOVE the book was that it WAS too Sherlock Holmes for me. I love how Lenox is more upper crust and moves in higher circles….this adds an interesting perspective to the ‘Holmes’ like character. Lenox is not a dark/troubled character like Holmes, just witty and eccentric….he’s more of the jolly gentleman type almost more like Watson but again more upper crust. I would have liked to see Lenox be more different than Holmes as a character. It was difficult to read the series without immediately thinking ‘haven’t I read something like this before’ but though it lacks originality it isn’t a total bore.
I had no trouble getting into the book and enjoyed it all the time I was reading it. I was able to stay focused on the story and entertained by the mystery which is more or less the whole point of reading right? It’s not like I’m looking for Atlantis….I’m simply trying to relax and enjoy a more or less clever story…..which is what this book achieved for me…..entertainment :).
Not rocket science, not Earth shattering, not life changing, not a mind bending wonder, not a classic, but pure entertainment. As I said before I will likely read the rest of the series because I love the time period and the characters were fun and engaging nevertheless….I would recommend this book to someone who is interested in the historic time period especially…..it makes the story that much more fun and meaningful if you like the period.
- Kindle Edition
- Published (first published June 26th 2007)
- ASIN B0024NLN2U
This book counts toward: Historic Fiction Reading Challenge
- Hosted by: Historic Fiction Reading Challenge
- Books for Challenge Completed: 1/2
Recommendation: 3 out of 5 (Alright, good for a quick entertaining read especially if you like the period)
Genre: Historic Fiction, mystery
Memorable lines/quotes: NA