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You know I love a good mystery, especially when the detective’s personal life unfolds alongside the solving of his or her cases. Lately, I’ve been relishing Charles Finch’s series featuring Charles Lenox, gentleman of Victorian London, amateur detective and Member of Parliament.

charles lenox mysteries charles finch books

I spotted Lenox’s fourth adventure at Brattle Book Shop a few months back, but since I like to start at the beginning of a series, I waited until I found the first book, A Beautiful Blue Death, at the Booksmith. (Bonus: my friend Jessica had read and liked it.)

Charles Lenox is the second son of a wealthy Sussex family. His brother Edmund has inherited their father’s title and seat in Parliament, but Charles is generally content in his comfortable house off Grosvenor Square, with his books, maps, and beautiful, kind neighbor, Lady Jane Grey, close at hand. Though it’s considered a bit gauche for a man of his class to solve mysteries (since it involves consorting with policemen and “low-class” criminals), Lenox is fascinated by crime and has no shortage of people appealing for his help.

I love the period details of Lenox’s life, from the glimpses of famous politicians (Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone) to the rituals surrounding births, weddings, funerals and the opening of Parliament. Lenox is a kind, thoughtful man, who tackles deep philosophical and moral questions but appreciates life’s small comforts, such as a clandestine cup of cocoa at midnight, a stack of hot buttered toast or a pair of well-made boots.

Although most of the servants in the series are background characters, Lenox’s relationship with his butler, Graham, is unusual: it dates to the days when Lenox was a student and Graham a scout at Oxford University. They stand on more equal ground than most masters and servants, and their relationship is pleasant to watch, as is Lenox’s bond with his brother.

The second book, The September Society, is set largely in Oxford, as Lenox tries to unravel the murder of a young man there. Both Lenox and Finch (the author) are Oxford alumni, and I loved following Lenox through the streets, parks and pubs of my favorite city. Turf Tavern, Lincoln College, Christ Church Meadows, the Bodleian Library – in some ways the Oxford of today is not all that different from the one Lenox knew. It is still a city of golden stone and walled gardens and long walks, and I loved every moment I spent there with Lenox and his associates.

So far, the series has run to six books, with a recurring circle of characters: Graham, Edmund, Lady Jane, Lenox’s doctor friend Thomas McConnell and his wife Victoria, amusingly known as “Toto.” Lenox eventually takes on an apprentice, Lord John Dallington, a young dandy with a taste for alcohol but also a nose for mysteries, and the two get on well together. And the third book, The Fleet Street Murders, provides a fascinating glimpse into local elections of the era, as Lenox campaigns frantically for a parliamentary seat in a remote northern town.

These mysteries are neither gritty forensic procedurals nor taut psychological thrillers – but that’s all right, since I’m not too fond of either. They are thoughtful, well-plotted, enjoyable tales, with a winning main character and plots intricate enough to keep me guessing. And were it possible, I’d like to time-travel to meet Lenox and Lady Jane on Hampden Lane for a cup of tea.

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