A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox Series #1)
  • A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox Series #1)
  • A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox Series #1)

A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox Series #1)

3.7 126
by Charles Finch
     
 

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Charles Lenox, Victorian gentleman and armchair explorer, likes nothing more than to relax in his private study with a cup of tea, a roaring fire and a good book. But when his lifelong friend Lady Jane asks for his help, Lenox cannot resist the chance to unravel a mystery.

Prudence Smith, one of Jane's former servants, is dead of an apparent suicide. But Lenox

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Overview

Charles Lenox, Victorian gentleman and armchair explorer, likes nothing more than to relax in his private study with a cup of tea, a roaring fire and a good book. But when his lifelong friend Lady Jane asks for his help, Lenox cannot resist the chance to unravel a mystery.

Prudence Smith, one of Jane's former servants, is dead of an apparent suicide. But Lenox suspects something far more sinister: murder, by a rare and deadly poison. The grand house where the girl worked is full of suspects, and though Prue had dabbled with the hearts of more than a few men, Lenox is baffled by the motive for the girl's death.

When another body turns up during the London season's most fashionable ball, Lenox must untangle a web of loyalties and animosities. Was it jealousy that killed Prudence Smith? Or was it something else entirely? And can Lenox find the answer before the killer strikes again—this time, disturbingly close to home?

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Vividly capturing the essence of Victorian England, Finch presents us with a unique sleuth who combines the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes with the people skills of Thomas Pitt. A sparkling achievement.” —Library Journal (starred review)

“A fine specimen of the genre…. Particularly good is [Finch's] delineation of Lenox's cozy-but-proper relationship with Lady Jane.” —The Washington Post

“The best sort of historical mystery--clever, charming, full of period detail, and a delight to read.” —David Liss, author of The Whiskey Rebels

Kevin Allman
Charles Finch's first novel breaks no ground in the venerable Victorian mystery tradition, but it's a fine specimen of the genre, due mostly to Finch's detective, the affable Charles Lenox…Finch hews to all the conventions of the traditional Victorian, including craftsmanlike plotting and an excellent foil, the bumbling, blustering Inspector Exeter of Scotland Yard.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Set in England in 1865, Finch's impressive debut introduces an appealing gentleman sleuth, Charles Lenox. When Lady Jane Grey's former servant, Prue Smith, dies in an apparent suicide-by-poisoning, Lady Jane asks Lenox, her closest friend, to investigate. The attractive young maid had been working in the London house of George Barnard, the current director of the Royal Mint. Lenox quickly determines that Smith's death was a homicide, but both Barnard and Scotland Yard resist that conclusion, forcing him to work discreetly. Aided by his Bunter-like butler and friend, Graham, the detective soon identifies a main suspect, only to have that theory shattered by that man's murder. Finch laces his writing with some Wodehousian touches and devises a solution intricate enough to fool most readers. Lovers of quality historical whodunits will hope this is the first in a series. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal
Gentleman Charles Lenox aids a lady friend to discover the secrets behind her former servant's death in this debut set in Victorian England. A Minotaur First Edition Selection. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Old-fashioned ratiocination, done up with all the Victorian bells and whistles. When Lady Jane's former upstairs maid Prue dies, presumably by her own hand, the gentlewoman calls on her good friend, Charles Lenox-an amateur sleuth who's also a Roman antiquities scholar and a lover of maps, a good pipe and a decent cup of tea-to investigate. Searching the gel's digs at the Barnard household, Lenox discovers several clues: a bottle of rare and expensive blue indigo poison, a forged suicide note, a leaf, a candle and diverse suspicious guests in residence, including two politicians, two nephews, one financier, Prue's footman fiance and of course Barnard himself, a Director of the Royal Mint, who was safeguarding crates of the nation's gold in a locked room. Dumb Inspector Exeter of the Yard is called in, but makes little headway, so Lenox sends his man Graham, his brother Edmund et al. to reconnoiter. Another fatality is scheduled for the season's main event, Barnard's ball. Untangling the ties between the deaths solves the case in time for Lenox and Lady Jane to contemplate more congenial companions. Finch's rudimentary writing skills are enlivened now and then by bits of London history. On the whole, though, most Sherlockians can skip this unengaging debut without risk.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312386078
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
07/22/2008
Series:
Charles Lenox Series, #1
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
145,553
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

A Beautiful Blue Death (Chapter One)

The fateful note came just as Lenox was settling into his armchair after a long, tiresome day in the city. He read it slowly, handed it back to Graham, and told him to throw it away. Its contents gave him a brief moment of preoccupation, but then, with a slight frown, he picked up the evening edition of the Standard and asked for his tea.

It was a bitterly cold late afternoon in the winter of 1865, with snow falling softly over the cobblestones of London. The clock had just chimed five o'clock, and darkness was dropping across the city—the gas lights were on, the shops had begun to close, and busy men filled the streets, making their way home.

It was the sort of day when Lenox would have liked to sit in his library, tinkering with a few books, pulling down atlases and maps, napping by the fire, eating good things, writing notes to his friends and correspondents, and perhaps even braving the weather to walk around the block once or twice.

But alas, such a day wasn't meant to be. He had been forced to go down to the Yard, even though he had already given Inspector Exeter what he thought was a tidy narrative of the Isabel Lewes case.

It had been an interesting matter, the widely reported Marlborough forgery—interesting, but, in the end, relatively simple. The family should never have had to call him in. It was such a characteristic failure for Exeter: lack of imagination. Lenox tried to be kind, but the inspector irritated him beyond all reason. What part of the man's mind forbade him from imagining that a woman, even as dignified a woman as Isabel Lewes, could commit a crime? You could be proper or you could investigate. Not both. Exeter was the sort of man who had joined the Yard partly for power and partly because of a sense of duty, but never because it was his true vocation.

Well, well, at least it was done. His bones were chilled straight through, and he had a pile of unanswered letters on his desk, but at least it was done. He scanned the headlines of the newspaper, which drooped precariously over his legs, and absentmindedly warmed his hands and feet by the large bright fire.

What bliss was there to compare to a warm fire, fresh socks, and buttered toast on a cold day! Ah, and here was his tea, and Lenox felt that at last he could banish Exeter, the Yard, and female criminals from his mind forever.

He sat in a long room on the first floor of his house. Nearest the door was a row of windows that looked out over the street he lived on, Hampden Lane. Opposite the windows was a large hearth, and in front of the hearth were a few armchairs, mostly made of red leather, where he was sitting now, and little tables piled high with books and papers. There were also two leather sofas in the middle of the room, and by the window a large oak desk. On the other two walls there were oak bookshelves that held the library he had collected over the years.

Lenox was a man of perhaps forty, with brown hair still untouched by age. He had been lean in his youth, and now, though he weighed more, he was still a tall thin man who stood erect, though without the uncomfortably ascetic bearing of many tall thin men. He had bright cheeks, a pleasant smile, and a short beard, such as men in Parliament were wont to wear. His eyes were a clear hazel and occasionally betrayed his geniality, for they would sharpen when he was absorbed with an idea or a suspicion.

If at twenty he had been single-minded and occasionally obsessive, at forty he had mellowed and now preferred to sit in front of a warm fire, reading the newspaper with a cup of tea in his hand. He had always loved his friends and his family dearly but took more pleasure in them now. He had always loved his work but allowed himself to be diverted from it more often now. It had simply happened that he had never married, and now he was a thorough bachelor, comfortable company but set in his ways and a good deal more snug at home than in the first ambition of his youth. Lenox hadn't changed, in his own estimation; and yet of course he had, as all men do.

The tea tray sat on a small side table by his chair, next to a stack of books, several of which had fallen to the floor, where he had left them the night before. The servants had learned by now to leave his library as he left it, except for an occasional dusting. He poured a healthy cup of tea, took a large scoop of sugar and a splash of milk, and then turned his attention to the plate of toast. Graham had thoughtfully added a small cake, which was a rare treat. But then, it had been a trying day.

After several cups of tea, a few pieces of toast, and a slice of the cake, he pushed the tray away with a feeling of contentment, dropped his paper on the floor, and picked up a slim leather volume. It was a recently published edition of The Small House at Allington, which he was reading slowly in order to savor it. Today he would give himself two chapters: another small reward for coping with both Inspector Exeter and the fearsome weather.

Graham came in after a moment to take away the tray.

"Excuse the interruption, sir," he said, "but will there be a reply to Lady Grey's letter?"

"It's horribly cold outside, Graham."

"Indeed, sir?"

"Really horribly cold. You expect a seal to stroll by you on the street."

"Are you warm now, sir?"

"Yes, a little better. I was only thinking about the cold."

"Sir?"

Lenox sighed. "I suppose I'll have to go next door, though." There was a pause while he looked glumly into the fire.

"To Lady Grey's, sir?" said Graham.

Lenox didn't respond. He continued to look glum. Finally he said, "Yes, to Lady Grey's. I hate to do it, though."

"I'm sorry to hear that, sir," said Graham.

"It's beastly cold outside."

"It is, sir."

Lenox looked more and more glum. "Can't be helped, I expect," he said.

"No, sir."

Lenox sighed. "Will you get my things, then?"

"Of course, sir," said Graham. "Does this mean that you don't wish to reply—"

"No, no, no. That's why I'm going over."

"Very good, sir."

As the butler left, Lenox stood up and walked over to the window behind his desk. He had been looking forward to a night in by the fire, but he was being foolish, he thought. It was only a house away. He should put his boots on—they were tossed under his desk, next to an open copy of Much, Ado—and get ready to go. They would be just about dry, he hoped. And in truth he looked forward to seeing her.

Lady Jane Grey was a childless widow of just past thirty, who lived in the next house over. She was one of his closest friends in the world. This had been the case ever since they were children in Sussex. Sir Edmund, Charles's older brother, had once been in love with Lady Jane, but that was when they were all much younger, when Charles was just out of Harrow and on his way to Oxford.

Lenox and Lady Jane were neighbors on Hampden Lane, living next to each other in a row of gray stone houses on a little slip of an alley just off of St. James's Park in the neighborhood of Mayfair. As it had been for some time, Mayfair was the most prestigious address in London—and yet he had decided to live there because it was so near St. James's, where Lenox had gone with his father when he was a child.

The park was surrounded by palaces: Buckingham Palace to the left, St. James's Palace to the right, and Westminster Palace, more commonly known as Parliament, straight ahead. Like so many parks in London it had begun life as a place for Henry VIII to shoot deer, but Charles II, whom Lenox had always been fond of as a schoolboy, had opened it to the public and had often fed the ducks there himself, where he could talk with his subjects. Only thirty years ago they had changed all the canals into lakes, bred swans on the lakes, and planted beautiful willow trees. People skated there in the winter and walked through the brilliant green fields in the summer, and no matter what season it was, Lenox took a walk through it most nights—at least when he didn't have a case.

As he looked through the window of his library, Lenox could see the chimneys on Hampden Lane giving off black wisps of smoke, as his own did, and he could see that all of the houses were brightly lighted, and inside all of them tea was either on the table or had just been finished.

He stepped back from his window and told himself that he would see about the note in a few minutes. Perhaps Jane would have another cup of tea for him, at any rate. For now, he picked up the evening paper again and read with great interest, while Graham arranged his things, about the parries that Disraeli and Russell were trading back and forth; for Parliament was just back in session.

A BEAUTIFUL BLUE DEATH. Copyright © 2007 by Charles Finch

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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 and A Stranger in Mayfair. A Beautiful Blue Death was his first novel and 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.

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A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox Series #1) 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 126 reviews.
JaneGorman More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to reading the rest in the series. Charles Lenox is endearing, engaging and entertaining. He seems to have it all – but he has his flaws, too. There’s nothing worse than a protagonist who’s nothing but perfect, and Lenox is just the right amount of imperfect. The only thing better than the characters was the description and setting. I feel like I just got back from a trip to Victorian London! Which is exactly what I look for in my books – a fun escape. I didn’t try to figure out who done it – if I had, I would have been a little disappointed by the few times Lenox “made a call” or “asked a question” but the reader didn’t get to hear the answer (that’s always a pet peeve of mine). But this was so well written, and the description so engaging, that I was too busy being drawn along with the characters, the mystery and the social drama to be concerned about the clues. I would recommend this to anyone interested in a fun, engaging read that includes a little mystery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am hooked on this series, and have been since reading this first book. I'm a big fan of anything set in the Victorian era, and found lots of great detail in this book. Characters are believable, likable, and hold interest. I would recommend this author to fans of CS Harris - many similarities
Booklover87 More than 1 year ago
I read quite a few rave reviews from my fellow reviewers so I decided to check it out and I was very disappointed. I love mysteries and I especially love historical novels. But I felt that the plot was not exciting and I didn't especially like Charles Lenox. In any mystery, I need twists in the plot and misdirection. Finch tried misdirection but he did it in boring way. All in all I really didn't like the novel and I had to make myself finish it. Maybe the rest of the series is better...
Hayley-McBee More than 1 year ago
I'm a fan of mystery stories set in 1800s so I picked this book up after many recommendations. I wasn't entirely disappointed but I am sad I hadn't saved my money and merely borrowed the book. It wasn't that the story was bad-it was intriguing enough for me to finish the book. However, the last two chapters seemed entirely pointless and I found myself skimming paragraphs. I understand these chapters were to set up character development but after reading the entire book I still lacked any care about the main character, his female friend, and his family. I found their personalities very plain and couldn't make myself care one way or another about them. The read wasn't a complete waste of time but I wouldn't read it again or recommend it to someone looking for a keeper.
PINKIEFAIR More than 1 year ago
This book is about a wealthy Victorian gentleman who is an amateur detective, Mr. Charles Lenox and his neighbor who is his childhood friend, Lady Jane Grey, she apprises Lenox of the death of her former maid, Prudence, apparently by suicide and requests his assistance in solving her death. The cast of characters were interesting and the plot was well thought out. I enjoyed the writing but when the mystery was solved the book kept going and going. I would read another of his books.
rsyb More than 1 year ago
I'm a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fan and love mysteries set in Britain and this time period, Charles Finch's style and storytelling are so satisfying. I looked forward to the time I set aside to read this book. Moving on to September Society now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very enjoyable reading. Reminded me of a mix of sherlock holmes, jack aubrey, and nick charles for some reason. I had recently finished the dragon tattoo books and found this a nice change. I enjoy period pieces and will be reading another soon.
EnoMary More than 1 year ago
I bought this because I like Anne Perry's books and thought I would like this as well. And I do. Am on the 4th book of the series and like each book better than the last. (by the way, after a lifetime of book reading, I've come to enjoy reading on the Nook better - who knew?) The main characters are appealing and interesting and I've come to care about them a lot. Although I do not expect to see these books on the short list for the Booker or Nobel prizes, they are well-written and very enjoyable. Luckily for me the next on is coming out next month! Alas I have to wait until next March for the latest installment in the Maise Dobbs series.
EdnaMole More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of mysteries set in Victorian England. A Beautiful Blue Death was very enjoyable and was definitely worth reading. The characters and setting were quite good. I especially enjoyed the interaction between the two brothers. I hope there will be a follow-up to this story.
ElaineReads 16 days ago
What to say? What to say? I almost didn’t finish this book. If I had not made a commitment to review it, I probably would have quit a hundred pages in. And that would have been a mistake. It’s one of those books that grows on you. It is slow moving, but not slow if that makes sense. The story takes time to build. It is a murder mystery, of course, although there is a touch of a relationship developing. It is far more concerned with friendships than romance and that is a nice change of pace. Twice, I figured out who the murderer was and I was wrong both times. That, to me, is a sign of a good mystery. When the crime was finally solved, I never saw it coming. Again, a good sign. So why did I almost give up on this book? I think Charles Lenox is misrepresented. He comes across as a 60+ old man with a querulous nature who only wants the comforts of home. He’s an armchair traveler who never quite actually goes anywhere, no matter how much planning he does in arranging trips. He’s forty-years-old. Forty!! I like him. He has a Sherlockian mind and, like Sherlock, helps Scotland Yard with crimes they cannot solve . . . whether they want him to or not. But he does not come across as forty. And that’s my only criticism of the book. Charles Lenox is just not believable in the way he is portrayed. I liked the book, but I didn’t love it. I’m glad I finished it because it really was a good mystery. I’m tempted to read the rest of the series (there are nine of them so far), but I don’t feel compelled to jump into the next one. Again, what to say? What to say? This book was sent to me by NetGalley in return for an honest review.
laKa0711 3 months ago
This book had a Sherlock meets Clue vibe to it. You have Charles Lennox, amateur sleuth, aka Sherlock, and his band of merry men set about solving the mysterious death of Prudence Smith, a servant. The members of the house were all conveniently in the drawing-room together. Classic Clue case of whodunit. No one seems to remember anything. You have wax drops on the floor but a brand new candle. A bottle of poison on the desk but a different kind than that that killed the girl. Open windows, crates of gold, and mysterious characters all around. But following along with all of this was a sheer struggle. A lot of information that was not relevant to the case was thrown in and went on for pages and pages, often causing me to get lost in the storyline of what was actually part of the murder case. A lot of historical facts were thrown in about random items and studies as well as random snippets where Finch would suddenly jump years ahead for no apparent reason and then backtrack to the scene at hand. Finch's writing is full of beautiful vocabulary, don't get me wrong, but he tries to be too clever. Following the end rationale for who committed the crime and why was excruciating! I was only intrigued to see out the end for a short period of time, never very suspenseful or had me sitting on the edge of my seat. Overall, there was just too much "other" filling up the pages. Check out my full review at http://readinglikeafool.blogspot.com
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I began reading “A Beautiful Blue Death” by Charles Finch, published by St. Martin’s Minotaur, because it was a first-published mystery for Mr. Finch. I’m afraid I actually began reading it for rather selfish purposes, those being I wanted to compare my skill as a writer with that of a writer who is published by one of the “Big Five” publishers. I’m very happy with the results. I wanted to select a mystery writer who is working roughly the same period as what I’ve written and is at roughly the same stage in his writing, and while Charles Finch has written several books, “A Beautiful Blue Death” was his first mystery novel. I found the novel a bit stilted with characters that appeared to be, while not one-dimensional, certainly not as fleshed out as I thought they could be. Some, such as George Barnard seemed almost caricature. While my first novel is a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, I had the advantage of having a character (characters, actually) to work with that are already familiar to most readers. I’m very sympathetic to Mr. Finch and his writing and do not mean to disparage it in the least in my criticisms, which I doubt I would even remark upon were I not also writing mysteries. The thing I found the most frustrating in reading Blue Death were the gaps of information and the incongruities. This, of course, is something all writers must struggle with—what to leave out and what to put into a novel. But the choices Mr. Finch made seemed to me at times ill advised. An example of an incongruity was in his description of Charles Lenox and Lady Jane’s childhood relationship as the closest of friends, when he had just intimated she was just over thirty, while he was over forty. While a gap of nine or ten years might not preclude adults of thirty and forty from being close friends, it’s difficult to reconcile a boy of, say, fifteen being best friends with a girl of five or six. Later on the detective, Charles Lenox, makes reference to the process of fingerprinting as being new. In fact, fingerprinting as a means of identification wasn’t really established until much later than 1865, the time this story is set. A small thing, but lack of good research is one of my pet peeves. One might argue that the fingerprint was recognized as unique by Johann Mayer in 1788 and used on contracts by William Herschel in 1860, but as a system of identification it was unknown until after Dr. Henry Faulds work in 1880 and was eschewed by the Metropolitan Police in London as late as 1886. The amateur detective Charles Lenox would be ahead of his time indeed to be making use of fingerprints, and to what end if they were not readily accepted? There are other small instances of annoyance but for the most part the book was an enjoyably entertaining read. The most important thing to me was that it was also instructive in my own writing pursuits. I therefore made up my mind after reading it to pick up the next book in the series, “The September Society”.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved this book! Great mystery and great setting! Who knew Victorian England was so interesting? Loved the Lennox and Lady Jane character and was taken by the end of the book. I have now requested Tea Time at my office much to the chagrin of everyone in it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is as dry as all of the toast the main character consume in this book. Honestly how much toast can a character eat and why does the author think this should be such an important part of the story. I was expecting a fun Victorian murder mystery but almost ended up being bored to death about details like toast. Not enough character development (unless you like boring characters who only think of their next tea or mindless conversation that has nothing to do with the plot) and the story drags.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written, but destroyed by the ridiculous premise that aristocracy of that time and place would have the smallest interest in the death of a former servant. Ridiculous! I seriously doubt the information would have gotten to this woman at all. Please, if you're going to write historical novels, don't color them to modern sensibilities. Women of that time were not free to do whatever they pleased, and servants were not treasured and lived, except possibly for very long term retainers, which this one certainly was not. I am so tired of all the Anne Perry followers out there, rewriting history to please themselves.
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hellopc More than 1 year ago
Very good, I love the victrian setting, characters are interesting