Review: The September Society (Charles Lenox Mysteries #2) by Charles Finch

How perfect and fitting that I am finishing this book today on the first day of September!

I’ve just come off a string of long and content heavy books. So I just mentally needed a break from reading things that were hard/complicated, wordy, and had long, extensive family trees (which is so typical of English literary classics and British based books like Outlander or Through a Glass Darkly!).

So, I was eager to read something else historically based but yet something I also knew to be a little less complicated and easy to read/understand….I immediately turned to the next book in the Charles Lenox Series, The September Society by Charles Finch!

When I started the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge this year, my objective was to complete at least two books in the genre. I selected two books from the Charles Lenox mysteries series by Charles Finch, A Beautiful Blue Death and The September Society.

If you are a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes Mysteries….or enjoy Sherlock Holmes-type mysteries….you will devour these books. Finch gives readers a similar approach to the amateur gumshoe/doctor duo with Lenox and his sidekick Dr McConnell who are a bit more down to earth an approachable than Holmes and Dr Watson.

The Sherlock Holmes series has gained a lot of popularity in the last couple of years with the modern Guy Ritchie rendition in 2009 and another upcoming installment (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows) due out in Dec 2011. I know lots of people are picking up the classic series hoping to find the same type of Holmes character that they see portrayed by Hollywood. Lenox is a breath of fresh air for the typical Sherlock Holmes style mysteries. As I said before, we have a more approachable combo of detective/doctor in the Lenox series…..Lenox is rich, eccentric, witty, charming, and smart.

The first book in the series, A Beautiful Blue Death, I didn’t really know too much about the series but they sounded like they were right up my alley as I am a HUGE ‘murder by gaslight in old foggy London’ mystery girl :).  I saw the series listed on Goodreads and over all it had favorable reviews.

The series follows ‘armchair explorer and detective’, Charles Lenox, who is a wealthy gentleman residing in the posh London address of Mayfair. He is independently wealthy (different in that regard than Holmes) and he has lots of time on his hands. But to Lenox detective work is more than just a rich mans ‘hobby’ or ‘fleeting interest’, it is truly his passion and calling.

He has a very analytical mind and pays attention to every detail. 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). Besides Lenox’s general quirky-ness I love his random style musings/comments and parenthetical insight or explanations on things the reader may have wondered about such as

On the train once more that evening (the trips were becoming tedious)…

I’ve had my wild times now and then — more than my share perhaps — and I don’t think I’ll give them up, because I like them too well.

Though the series is clearly modeled after Holmes, it does have a distinct flair all its own. The Lenox series is less wordy and more descriptive in my opinion. In the Holmes series, the focus really is the mystery itself and it reads (at times) more as an instructive book in the ways of police investigation. The Lenox series is more about plot and setting. It is difficult to read the Lenox series though and NOT think immediately of Holmes and start comparing characters and books/series however I think the biggest difference between Holmes and Lenox is the characters themselves.

Though like some of the readers/reviewers on Goodreads, I think some of the characters in the Lenox series are a little bland and stereo typical but I think most will agree that we get to know Lenox much more than we would ever get to know Holmes! Lenox is witty, charming, and simply good natured. I love his humor and find him to be a ‘jolly good fellow’. His side-kicks and friends are also monotonous but yet likable….Lady Jane is your typical Victorian era noble women–she has a sense of duty and lets Lenox be her white knight.

Thomas McConnell is a doctor and Lenox’s old friend….he too is a nobleman who is often bored with his day to day life but also has a sense of duty and propriety (similar to Dr Watson from the Holmes series). Graham is Lenox’s butler who is loyal and like a brother to Lenox, but he is aware his social position is not equal to Lenox’s and appropriately follows social protocol. So that said, yes the characters are a little bland and predictable but that is part of what makes this series fun to read….it’s not like I have to sit there and REALLY concentrate on what’s going on or follow some long complicated plot, character lineage, or timeline. I suppose this is why I have been quickly devouring the series….its just a nice, fun, easy read….plain and simple :).

So in this second book of the series, Lenox is investigating the disappearance of his friend’s son at Oxford. Lenox, a fellow Oxonian himself, returns to his alma mater to investigate the disappearance of one George Payson. Quickly the disappearance turns into a homicide investigation–an investigation full of secret societies, family secrets, the wealthy upper crust of London society, and little plot twists and turns–overall, all the things which make an engaging mystery :).

I think one of the things that I enjoyed most about the book though….besides the easy freshness of the series, was the intertwining of Victorian era history, politics and society. I like doing some of my own historical research when I read a historic fiction novel. It really bugs me when someone writes a historic novel and doesn’t really do a lot of research….I am also a stickler for historic details.

Since I am especially familiar with Victorian era history, I do like to check historic facts from time to time :). I was pleasantly surprised that overall, Finch’s historic references were accurate and well researched. You can tell just by the way he casually throws in things secret societies, social clubs, politics, society, medicine, forensics, education, and language he clearly has a through knowledge of all subject–everything is period appropriate. Finch seamlessly merges all his historic knowledge into the books and characters which makes it that much more fun to read.

The details Finch uses in the book…all the tiny details about of Oxford….it’s grounds, it’s history, the town itself….the little things he describes….it really feels as if I am there. Even if I hadn’t been to Oxford or anywhere else in the English countryside before, his descriptions are so clear that anyone could read it and feel like they were sitting in the pub next to Lenox trying to solve the mystery. There is a wonderful blend of the story’s time and place and clearly a lot of care went into the historic accuracy in the novel.

The story itself is somewhat predictable, as it was clear from the ending of the first book that Lenox would be perusing an intimate yet proper relationship with Lady Jane Gray but it’s still fun to see how it all plays out of course.

The mystery was also a little predictable as were some of the twists but still the story was worth reading. It is hard to explain but their series just kind of grew on me somehow….I liked this book better than I liked the first one, I felt like it was a little more mature and thought out. I am excited about reading the third book in the series, The Fleet Street Murders. For some reason I am now hooked on the series and once I complete the third and fourth books I will be earnestly waiting for the fifth.

I wouldn’t say the series is ‘mindless’ but the books are not a real thinkers and I wouldn’t exactly call them ‘thrillers’ either but entertaining nevertheless.

Overall this was the perfect solution to my dilemma, a quick, pleasant read that I could enjoy in between books for fun. I had no trouble getting into the book and enjoyed it all the time I was reading it. I will likely read the rest of the series because I love the time period and the characters were fun and engaging….I would recommend this book to someone who is interested in this particular historic period… makes the story that much more fun and meaningful if you like the period and done your research as Finch onviously has :).

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The September Society (Charles Lenox Mysteries #2) by Charles Finch

  • Kindle Edition
  • Published (first published January 1st 2008)

This book counts toward: Historic Fiction Reading Challenge

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

3 thoughts on “Review: The September Society (Charles Lenox Mysteries #2) by Charles Finch

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