A Death in the Small Hours (Charles Lenox Series #6)by Charles Finch
From the critically acclaimed author of A Beautiful Blue Death and A Burial at Sea comes an intriguing new mystery in what The New York Times calls "a beguiling series"
Charles Lenox is at the pinnacle of his political career and is a delighted new father. His days of regularly investigating the crimes of Victorian London now some/p>/b>/i>/i>/i>… See more details below
From the critically acclaimed author of A Beautiful Blue Death and A Burial at Sea comes an intriguing new mystery in what The New York Times calls "a beguiling series"
Charles Lenox is at the pinnacle of his political career and is a delighted new father. His days of regularly investigating the crimes of Victorian London now some years behind him, he plans a trip to his uncle's estate, Somerset, in the expectation of a few calm weeks to write an important speech. When he arrives in the quiet village of Plumley, however, what greets him is a series of strange vandalisms upon the local shops: broken windows, minor thefts, threatening scrawls.
Only when a far more serious crime is committed does he begin to understand the great stakes of those events, and the complex and sinister mind that is wreaking fear and suspicion in Plumley. Now, with his protege, John Dallington, at his side, the race is on for Lenox to find the culprit before he strikes again. And this time his victim may be someone that Lenox loves.
“Superb . . . Boasting one of Finch's tightest and trickiest plots, this installment further establishes Lenox as a worthy heir to the aristocratic mantle of Lord Peter Wimsey.” Publishers Weekly (starred)
“The murder mystery that Finch weaves keeps readers guessing.” Mary Foster, The Associated Press on A Burial at Sea
“Finch vividly brings 1860s London to life [and] effortlessly inhabits his compassionate hero.” USA Today on A Stranger in Mayfair
“Beguiling. . . . Character is very much at the core of these whodunits.” Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review on The Fleet Street Murders
Read an Excerpt
A Death in the Small Hours
By Charles Finch
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2012 Charles Finch
All rights reserved.
Charles Lenox sat in the study of his town house in Hampden Lane — that small, shop-lined street just off Grosvenor Place where he had passed most of his adult life — and sifted through the papers that had accumulated upon his desk, as they would, inevitably, when one became a member of Parliament. In fact now they were like a kind of second soul that inhabited the room with him, always longing for attention. There were outraged letters about the beer tax from his constituents in Durham; confidential notes from members of the other party, inviting his support of their bills; reports on India, anarchism, and the poor laws; and oh, any number of things beside. It hadn't been an easy year so far, 1874. As his stature within the House increased, as he progressed from the backbenches to the front — aided, in part, by the knowledge of international affairs he had gained on a trip to Egypt that spring — the amount of work increased commensurately.
While he organized his correspondence, Lenox's mind worked over each problem the papers presented in turn, going a little ways on one, then turning back to the start, then going slightly farther, like a farmer plowing a furrow, setting out to break still newer ground. If he could get Cholesey and Gover, of the Tories, to agree to vote for the Ireland bill, then he might just permit Gover and Mawer to let it be known that he would stand behind the military bill, in which case Mawer might — so his thoughts ran on and on, ceaselessly formulating and analyzing.
Eventually he sighed, sat back, and turned his gaze to the thin rain that fell upon the window. Whether he knew it or not he had changed in the past few years, perhaps since his election, and would have looked to someone who hadn't seen him since then indefinably different. His hazel eyes were the same, kind but sharp, and he was still thin, if not positively ascetic, in build. His short brown beard had been clipped only the evening before to its customary length. Perhaps what was different was that he had developed the air of someone with responsibility — of multiple responsibilities, even. Thinking of one of them now, however, his face changed from discontent to joy, and though his eyes stayed on the street a great beam of a smile appeared on his face.
He stood. "Jane!"
There was no reply, so he went to the door of the study and opened it. This room of his was a long, book-filled rectangle a few feet above street level, with a desk near the windows and at the other end of it, around the hearth, a group of comfortable maroon couches and chairs.
"Keep quiet!" a voice cried back in an urgent whisper from upstairs.
"Is she asleep?"
"She won't be for long, if you hullabaloo about the house like an auctioneer."
He came out to the long hallway that stretched from the front door to the back of the house, rooms on either side and a stairwell near the end of it. His wife came down this now, her face full of exasperation and affection at once.
"May I go up and see her?"
Lady Jane reached the bottom of the stairs. She was a pretty woman, in rather a plain way, dark-haired and at the moment pale, wearing a gray dress with a pink ribbon at the waist. Above all the impression she left on people was of goodness — or perhaps that was the impression she left primarily on Lenox, because he knew her so well, and therefore knew that quality in her. For many long years they had been dear friends, living side by side on Hampden Lane; now, still to his great surprise, they were man and wife. They had married four years before.
Better still, to add to his great happiness and evergreen surprise, at long last they had received a blessing that made him stop and smile to himself at random moments throughout every day, as he just had in his study, a blessing that never failed to lift his spirits above the intransigent tedium of politics: a daughter, Sophie.
She had been theirs for three months, and every day her personality developed in new, startling, wonderful directions. Almost every hour he snuck away from his work to glimpse her, sleeping or better yet awake. Granted, she didn't do much — she was no great hand at arithmetic, as Lady Jane would joke, seldom said anything witty, would prove useless aboard a horse — but he found even her minutest motions enchanting. Babies had always seemed much of a muchness to him, but how wrong he had been! When she wriggled an inch to the left he found himself holding his breath with excitement.
"Hadn't we better let her sleep?"
"Just a glance."
"Go on, then — but quietly, please. Oh, but wait a moment — a letter came for you in the post, from Everley. I thought you would want it straight away." Lady Jane patted the pockets of her dress. "I had it a moment ago. Yes, here it is." She passed him the small envelope. "Can you have lunch?" "I had better work through it."
"Shall I have Kirk bring you something, then?"
"Yes, if you would."
"What would you like?"
She laughed her cheery, quiet laugh. "I doubt Ellie will surprise you very far." This was their cook, who was excellent but not much given to innovation.
He smiled. "Sandwiches will be fine."
"I'll go out for luncheon, then, if you don't mind. Duch invited me to come around. We're planning the Christmas ball." Lady Jane, rather more than Lenox, was one of the arbiters of Mayfair society, much sought after.
"I shan't see you for supper, either."
"Yes. But we'll put Sophie into bed together?"
She smiled, then stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. "Of course. Good-bye, my dear."
He stopped her with a hand on the arm, and leaned down to give her a kiss in return. "Until this evening," he said, his heart full of happiness, as so often it was these days.
After she had gone downstairs to arrange his lunch with the butler and the cook, Lenox remained in the hall, where he opened his letter. It was from his uncle Frederick, a relation of Lenox's late mother.
Please consider this a formal invitation to come down for a week or two, with Jane of course and the new Lenox; I very much want to meet her. The garden is in fine shape, and then, Fripp is very anxious to have you for the cricket, which takes place Saturday week. I haven't seen you in more than a year, you know.
Yours with affection &c, Frederick Ponsonby
Postscript: To sweeten the pot, shall I mention that in town, recently, there have been a series of strange vandalisms? The police cannot make head or tail of them and so everyone is in great stir. Perhaps you might lend a hand.
Lenox smiled. He was fond of his uncle, an eccentric man, retiring and very devoted to his small, ancient country house, which lay just by a village. Since the age of four or five Lenox had gone there once a year, usually for a fortnight, though it was true that the stretches between visits had gotten longer more recently, as life had grown busier. Still, there was no way he could leave London just at this moment, with so many political matters hanging in the balance. He tucked the note into his jacket pocket and turned back to his study.
Ah, but he had forgotten: Sophie! With soft steps he bounded up the stairs, past a maid carrying a coal scuttle, and toward the nursery.
The child's nursemaid, Miss Taylor, sat in a chair in the hall outside it, reading. She was a brilliant young woman, accomplished in drawing and French — both useless to the infant at the moment, but fine endowments nevertheless — who had a reputation as the most capable nursemaid in London. She cared for a new child every year or so, always infants. Jane had acquired this marvel for them, at great expense, to Lenox's derision — yet he had to admit that she was wonderful with Sophie, with a gentle comprehension and tolerance for even the child's worst moods. Despite her relative callowness — she was perhaps two and thirty, though her complexion retained to an unusual degree the bloom of youth — Miss Taylor was an imperious figure; they both lived in frank terror of offending her. Still, she was used to Lenox's frequent interruptions and indulged them with less severity now than she had at first.
"Only for a moment, please," she whispered.
"Of course," he said.
He went into the room and crossed the soft carpet as quietly as he could. He leaned over the child's crib and with a great upsurge of love and joy looked down upon her. Such a miracle! Her serenely sleeping face, rather pink and sweaty at the moment, her haphazard blond curls, her little balled-up fists, her skin as smooth and pure as still water when you touched it, as he did now, with the back of his fingers.
It was joy beyond anything he had ever known.CHAPTER 2
The light rain of the afternoon had thickened into a torrent by the evening. It emptied the streets of London, and even up close the streetlamps, paced fifty feet apart along the pavement, were no more than shrouded yellow smudges against the darkness, while the buildings of Pall Mall loomed above like great, lightless cliffs. As for the driver of Lenox's carriage, he and his horses alike were soaked to the bone — though upon closer inspection one could in the dimness around the driver's face perceive a small dot of orange, growing faint and then brightening every so often: his inextinguishable cigar.
He didn't remove it to call down. "Here we are, sir."
"Thank you kindly," Lenox answered and climbed out of the carriage.
It was a short, wet walk into his destination, Brooks's, one of the gentlemen's clubs along Pall Mall. Lenox was not a member here, preferring the less erratic and more civilized air of the Athenaeum or the Reform nearby. Certainly the average member of Brooks's was quite highly born — royalty were upon its rolls — but they were also almost uniformly wild men, who gambled at cards for days and nights on ends, jousted with cues across the snooker table, and placed with each other the oddest sorts of bets in the infamous club book. This lay open on a marble plinth in the warm, comfortably carpeted entry hall where Lenox stood now; the entry that caught his eye read:
Mr. Berkeley pays five guineas to Lord Erskine, to receive five hundred should he successfully entice an unclothed woman of good birth into a hot air balloon, which must then attain no less a height than one thousand feet.
"Oh, dear," said Lenox to himself.
"There you are!"
Lenox turned and saw his companion for the evening, Lord John Dallington, coming down the club's grand staircase. He was a handsome, compact man of perhaps twenty-seven or twenty-eight, wearing a black velvet blazer with a carnation affixed to its buttonhole.
"Hello, John," Lenox said.
"Have you been peeking into the club book?"
"No — or rather —"
"Good. There's a bet I have with Ollie Pendleton which I don't think you ought to know about — all on the up and up, I swear. It's to do with stealing a certain horse from a certain stable. Damned impudence to call a lock unbreakable — sheer hubris — but never mind, it's neither here nor there. Come along, let's go up, I've reserved us the small room by the library. The wine is open."
Lenox smiled. "Cork it again, then — I have too much work to feel mutton-headed in the morning, these days. Not to mention a daughter."
"How is she, then? Happy, healthy? And Lady Jane?"
"They're flourishing, thank you."
"I'm glad you've been able to get away, nevertheless. I've got a tricky one this week."
Lenox felt a quickening of anticipation. "Oh?"
"It's a poisoning in Belsize Park."
"Have I read about it?"
Dallington, climbing a step ahead of him, shook his head. "It hasn't made the papers yet, because the chap who was poisoned is hanging on to life like a limpet. He's comatose, unfortunately, which means he's roughly as communicative as one too, ha, ha."
Lenox and Dallington sat down to supper once a week when both were in town, always at Brooks's. It was a strange and unexpected relationship. For many years Lenox had heard of the younger man only distantly, the disappointing youngest son of one of Lady Jane's closest friends. Dallington had been sent down from Cambridge under a cloud of angry rumor, and after that had proceeded to investigate every alehouse, gambling pit, and gin parlor in London, usually with a string of unnameable women and several debased aristocratic companions. By the time Lenox first really got to know him, Dallington's reputation had been hopelessly blackened.
Yet now Dallington was probably the premier private investigator in London. Lenox himself had occupied that position for many years, before the whole business of Parliament took his attention away from crime, and during the time when it was still his primary pursuit Dallington had come and asked to be his protégé. Lenox had been deeply suspicious at first, but within a matter of months the young man — neither as pure at heart as Lenox would have wished, nor the wastrel his reputation would have had one believe — had saved his mentor's life and helped to solve the detective's thorniest case in years.
These days they were firm allies, and while Dallington still came to Brooks's, he was a tamer creature, given over more and more to detection. Like Lenox he felt a passion for it; in fact Lenox envied him. While he saw Parliament as a duty — or in fact more than that, a complex of duties, ambitions, and vanities — detection had always been his truest vocation. Now these suppers, at which they discussed Dallington's cases, held for him his favorite relaxation of the week.
They came into a small room, papered dark blue, full of portraits of old members — many now snoozing in the House of Lords, solid ancient Tories, no longer the fire-breathing rascals of their youth — and sat at table, which was laid out for supper.
Dallington rang a small bell. "Are you sure you won't have a glass of wine?" "One, perhaps."
"That's more like it — just one, there, no, not to the top, apologies. Ah, and here's the waiter. What would you like to eat, Lenox, guinea fowl or beef?"
"For two, then, and bring all those things you bring, too, please, potatoes and carrots and mustard, if you don't mind." The waiter, who was terrible at his job but too stupid to blackmail any of the men he served, and received therefore a princely remuneration, smiled, nodded, and left.
"A poisoning?" said Lenox, too curious for preliminary chatter.
Dallington retrieved a small notebook from his jacket. "I'm glad you're here, in truth, because I have my suspicions but I can't confirm them."
"Tell me the details."
"The victim is a solicitor in Belsize Park, Arthur Waugh. He —"
"How did you come by this case?"
Dallington smiled. "Inspector Jenkins didn't like the look of it."
"Ah — the old story." Lenox had received cases in the same way, once upon a time. Scotland Yard's men couldn't always devote the time or resources to an investigation that an amateur could. It gave him a pang that they went to Dallington now, though he tried not to show it. "Go on, then."
"This Waugh was apparently a rotten apple. His first wife died five years ago, and it seems almost certain that he killed her, but all of the servants swore up and down that she had fallen down the stairs. It couldn't be disproved."
"He married again, I take it?"
"Yes, and it's she that I suspect, Florence Waugh. Four evenings ago, after supper, Arthur Waugh fell ill. Before supper he had had a toothache, for which he took a dose of laudanum, but he often did that."
"It was his usual prescription?"
"About an hour after he went upstairs to bed his servants heard him crying out for help, and called for the doctor. By the time the doctor arrived Waugh was comatose."
"How much of the laudanum was missing?"
"Precisely what I asked. The answer was that much more than usual was gone, certainly much above his usual dose. So his wife and servants all confirmed."
Dallington laughed. "You taught me one or two things, Charles. Yes, I asked each of them separately. I don't believe it was the laudanum, though — I think his assailant drained half the bottle in the sink to try to make it look that way. Waugh was in rude health and certainly not suicidal — pigheadedly in love with life, from the sound of it, if anything — and he had been taking laudanum for years without incident."
Excerpted from A Death in the Small Hours by Charles Finch. Copyright © 2012 Charles Finch. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Charles Finch is a graduate of Yale and Oxford. He is the author of the Charles Lenox mysteries, including The Fleet Street Murders, The September Society, A Stranger in Mayfair, and A Burial at Sea. His first novel, A Beautiful Blue Death, was nominated for an Agatha Award and was named one of Library Journal's Best Books of 2007, one of only five mystery novels on the list. He lives in Oxford, England.
Charles Finch is a graduate of Yale and Oxford. He is the author of the Charles Lenox mysteries. His first novel, A Beautiful Blue Death, was nominated for an Agatha Award and was named one of Library Journal's Best Books of 2007, one of only five mystery novels on the list. His first contemporary novel, The Last Enchantments, was published in 2015. He lives in Chicago.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Charles Lenox is enjoying his job in parliament even though he had to cut down on his detective work. Luckily John Dallington is willing to take over this business. At times Dallington still has questions about his investigations, which allows Charles to still feel as though he still involved. But as a Member of Parliament, he feels that he has the ability to make a large difference for those in need. He is also excited with being a new father. (As a side note – it is very interesting to see how the Victorians’ raised their children as it very different from today.) Charles goes to Plumley (near his uncle's estate) to write a speech in the laid back countryside but instead finds himself investigating vandalism and then murder. Sometimes the country is not as quiet and peaceful as one would imagine. With the help of Dallington, he is able to track the killer and try to prevent the next murder. The only negative to this book and this series is that the book’s pacing is on the slow side. Personally I enjoy books where the pace is a little faster. I do not want to be “distracted” to the plot as the author goes through the working of Parliament etc. I am just not interested in that. I want to get to the action. Yet, I do enjoy this series. Charles is a solid upstanding gentlemen and does work hard to change the world. I just fear that he is going to be forced to pick one side (investigation vs parliament) as he did not juggle everything well. At times I felt exhausted after reading about his long long day and then the fact that he stays up late to read briefs he should have read instead of investigating.
Drawing rooms, big gardens, sleek fast horses, so much elegance that you wish more murders had been committed. Lenox is quite posh, smart, devoted; solves crimes and works parliament when not busy. Pleasant reading but don't doubt it is well-written.
My wife and I have read all of Charles Finch's Charles Lenox murder mysteries and enjoy them all. This one was as good as the others. At first I thought the story was going to go on and on about Lenox's work as a member of Parliament, but it did not. The story moved quickly to a rural estate where the mystery and Lenox's efforts to solve it unfolded; lots of action, complex plots, and a beautiful 19th century rural England atmosphere enveloped the story. We like the characters and the very well crafted murder mystery with complex plots. I hope other stories in this sequence take place in such interesting locations.
Charles is all grown-up and mature now. Will Mr. Finch allow Mr. Lenox to became a repectsble member of Parliment? Is this the end of prowling about, causing worry and angst among family and friends? Perhaps Mr. Lenox's slightly degenerent apprentice will continue as the central figure of the series. On the down side, there were too many loose ends flopping about towards the end of this tale. There was an entire romance novel squeezed into the last five chapters. Poor form in that.
I am a fan of the series so it's no surprise I loved the book. I was drawn in from page one, enjoying the writing and the story, and, when I'd put the book down, I half expected to find myself sitting next to an oil lamp instead of my reading lamp, I was so into the 19th century. Great detail, great writing, a good mystery and a happy surprise--I could not ask for more.
This is the sixth in a series about an English gentleman, Charles Lenox during the late 1800's in England. Each book gets better and better as he grows and changes. A must read!
Enjoyed this book very much. Nice addition to the series.