In An Old Betrayal, the seventh book of Charles Finch's bestselling series of Victorian mysteries, a case of mistaken identity has Charles Lenox playing for his highest stakes yet: the safety of Queen Victoria herself.
On a spring morning in London, 1875, Charles Lenox agrees to take time away from his busy schedule as a Member of Parliament to meet an old protégé's client at Charing Cross. But when their cryptic encounter seems to lead, days later, to the murder of an innocuous country squire, this fast favor draws Lenox inexorably back into his old profession.
Soon he realizes that, far from concluding the murderer's business, this body is only the first step in a cruel plan, many years in the plotting. Where will he strike next? The answer, Lenox learns with slowly dawning horror, may be at the very heart of England's monarchy.
Ranging from the slums of London to the city's corridors of power, the newest Charles Lenox novel bears all of this series' customary wit, charm, and trickery—a compulsive escape to a different time.
About 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. 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 New York City.
Charles Finch is the USA Today bestselling author of the Charles Lenox mysteries, including the most recent, The Woman in the Water (February 2018). His first contemporary novel, The Last Enchantments, is also available from St. Martin's Press. Finch received the 2017 Nona Balakian Citation Award, for excellence in reviewing, from the National Book Critics Circle. His reviews and essays have appeared in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and elsewhere. He lives in Chicago with his family.
Read an Excerpt
An Old Betrayal
A Charles Lenox Mystery
By Charles Finch
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2013 Charles Finch
All rights reserved.
The long green benches of the House of Commons were half-deserted as the evening session began, scattered with perhaps a few dozen men. It was only six o'clock. As the hours moved toward midnight these rows would fill, and the voices speaking would grow louder to be heard, but for now many of the Members of Parliament were still attending to the chops, the pints of porter, and the ceaseless gossip of the House's private dining room.
In the front bench to the left side of the chamber sat a man with a short beard and kind, intelligent eyes, rather thinner than most gentlemen who were just beyond, as he was, the age of forty. He wore a quiet gray evening suit, and though by now many along the benches had begun to lounge backward and even, in some instances, close their eyes, his face and posture evinced no rebellion against the more or less limitless boredom that the House was capable of inflicting upon its observers. His name was Charles Lenox: Once upon a time he had been a practicing detective, and though he still kept a careful eye upon the criminal world, for some years he had been the Member of Parliament for Stirrington, and politics now comprised the chief work of his life.
"Lenox?" whispered a voice behind him.
He turned and saw that it was the Prime Minister. In his early days in Parliament an informal address from such a figure would have awed Lenox, but now, having moved by his own industry from the back benches to the front, he was accustomed to Disraeli's presence—if perhaps not his company. Rising to an inconspicuous stoop, he said, "Good evening, Prime Minister."
Disraeli motioned him down and sat beside him, then went on, still in a low voice, "I cannot imagine why you have brought yourself here so early in the evening. Not to hear Swick?"
Across the aisle, several rows up, a gentleman was speaking. He was Augustus Swick, a notorious crank. His speech had begun several minutes before, with the comforting assertion that in his view England had never been in a worse position. Now he had moved on to more personal issues. As he spoke, his enormous white mustache shook at its fringes.
"It is 1875, gentlemen, and still I cannot walk across St. James's Street to the Carlton Club without being harassed by every variety of vehicle, your omnibus, your reckless hansom cab, your landau, your rapid, far too rapid, clarence—"
"Pierpont!" called out a lazy voice from a back bench.
"I am delighted to hear that name, sir!" cried Swick, reddening, his brow set so grimly that this profession of delight seemed less than sincere. "Yes, Pierpont! I had hoped his name might arise, because I must inquire of this chamber, are we all to go to private expense, as Colonel Pierpont did, to install islands in the middle of every road we wish to cross? Do every man's means extend so far? Can private citizens be expected to bear such a burden? I ask you, gentlemen, where will it end? Will it take a horse trampling me to death in Jermyn Street before the attention of this chamber is drawn to the problem of London's traffic?"
"May as well try it and find out," called out the same voice, to mild laughter.
Swick, outraged, drew himself up further, and Disraeli, with a wink, took the opportunity to move to the front bench across the aisle—for he was a Conservative, though he liked to stop in among his foes for a friendly word when the chamber was empty. He was sharp, this fellow. He had turned out Lenox's own party's leader, William Gladstone, the year before, but since then he had very carefully won around both sides of the House by tempering his imperial ambitions for England with an unexpected social conscience. Just that evening they were going to discuss the Artisans' and Labourers' Dwellings Improvement Act—a bill that sounded as if it might have come from Gladstone himself.
In fact, this was why Lenox had come to the chamber early. He had a word to get in.
By the time Swick had finished speaking, ten or fifteen more men had filed into the Commons, and the serious business of the evening was near its commencement. The Speaker recognized the only man to stand after Swick—Edward Twinkleton, a midlands glue baron. He began to address Disraeli's act.
The housing of the poor was a serious issue, perhaps the one to which Lenox had, in recent months, devoted more time than to any other. Only that morning he had driven to the slums of Hungerford to see the problem firsthand.
Despite its origin in his own Conservative benches, Twinkleton stood firmly against the bill and was now making a long-winded argument about the idle poor. When he had concluded, Lenox stood up and, after recognition from the Speaker, began his response.
"The chief issue is not, as my honorable friend presumes, one of the comfort of our poorer citizens, but of their health. May I ask whether he is familiar with the usual, and vile, practice of the builders in these neighborhoods? Commissioned by Her Majesty's government to construct new edifices, they take the very fine gravel we, the taxpayers, have purchased—for the construction of the foundation—and they sell it on the black market. Then they replace it with something called 'dry core,' gentlemen, a mixture of trash, dead animals, and vegetables. It is only March, but in the summer, I am informed, the smell is beyond belief. Can we rightly call this England, if Parliament gives its endorsement, this evening, to such practices?"
Lenox sat down and thought he saw Disraeli incline his head slightly across the aisle in thanks—though perhaps not.
Twinkleton rose. "I commend my honorable friend's insight into the issue, and yet it cannot be lost on him that these people have always lived in the city, always in suchlike conditions, and that there seem to be more of them than ever! No amount of dry core reduces their number!"
Lenox stood to respond. "The honorable gentleman from Edgbaston neglects to consider, perhaps, the historical context of our time. During the period of the honorable gentleman's childhood—"
"As I did not receive a card from my honorable friend upon the recent occasion of my birthday, I do not see how he can be so certain of my age."
This drew a laugh, but Lenox bore onward. "During the period of the honorable gentleman's childhood," he said, "or thereabouts, one in five Britons lived in a city. Now it is edging toward four in five. Even to a very dim intellect that must be acknowledged a change."
There was laughter on Lenox's own side now, and a diffident round of hissing and catcalling on the other, all very usual, at this slight, and as Lenox sat down upon the green baize bench, smiling faintly, Twinkleton rose up, his face also traced with amusement, clearly raring for battle. Instead the Speaker, chary perhaps of any further devolution of courtesy in the chamber, chose to call for rebuttal on Montague, a Member from Liverpool. Twinkleton would have his chance again in a moment. In the meanwhile, Montague, who had all the charisma and verve of a dying houseplant, returned the tone of the House's discourse to its proper tedium.
When Montague had been speaking for ten minutes or so, Lenox saw that a red-haired boy was approaching him, having darted down one of the aisles. This was Frabbs, his clerk, a bright and attentive lad. He handed Lenox a note. "Just came to the office, sir," he said.
"Thank you," said Lenox.
He tore the envelope and read the short note inside. Interesting. "Any reply, sir?" asked Frabbs.
"No, but find Graham and ask him whether the vote on this bill will come in this evening, or if he thinks there will be another day of debate. You can signal me from the door, I shall keep an eye on it."
Graham was Lenox's political secretary, his most important ally; it was a position in most instances occupied by some ambitious son of the upper classes, fresh from Charterhouse or Eton, but Graham was, unusually—perhaps even uniquely—a former servant. For many years he had been Lenox's butler. A compact, sandy-haired, and shrewd fellow, he had taken to his new position without faltering, and now had more to do with the running of Parliament than fully half of the body's own Members.
As Montague bore onward, down into the depths of his prepared remarks, Lenox's eyes kept flitting to the side door where Frabbs would appear. Catching himself at it once too often, he smiled: It was the old internal debate, the mild pleasures of Parliament, the sense of duty he felt to be there, laid against the thrill of being out on the hunt. Detective work.
Lenox's father had been a great man in the Commons, and now his older brother, Sir Edmund Lenox, stood among the two or three chiefs of the party. For his part, Charles had always taken a great interest in politics, too—had sometimes wished that the seat in the family's bestowal, which of course Edmund took upon reaching maturity, might have been his—and had been thrilled when he won his own. It felt like an ascent, for in truth many of his class looked upon Lenox's previous career as a folly, even an embarrassment.
How he missed the old life! Twice in the past two years he had emerged briefly from retirement, on both occasions in singular circumstances, and now he often thought of those cases, their particular details, with a longing to be back in the middle of them. No morning passed in which he did not pore over the crime columns of the newspapers, coffee growing cold in its cup.
He thought of all this because of the note Frabbs had passed him: It had come from his former protégé in detection, Lord John Dallington, asking for help on a case. Having read it ten minutes before, Lenox itched with irritation at his position already, eager to be gone from the Commons.
It was true that he had promised Disraeli, and several other men, that he would be an assiduous participant in these debates. Still, he had already exchanged words with Twinkleton once, and for an hour or two's absence anyway he would hardly be missed. Particularly if the vote was to be delayed beyond that evening.
Ah! There was Frabbs's head, popping around the doorjamb—and yes, there was the thumb in the air. With a murmured good-bye to the men on his bench, and a promise that he would return just after the break, Lenox stood and made for the exit, happier than he had been since he left the house that morning. A strange circumstance, Dallington's note had promised. Lenox smiled. Who knew what might await him out there in the great fervid rousing muddle of London?CHAPTER 2
A stroll up and across Green Park took Lenox to Half Moon Street, where Dallington lived. The address was a fashionable one, popular especially among the young and idle rich, lying as it did close by both their clubs and Hyde Park, where they might ride their horses in the morning. Dallington lived toward the Curzon Street end, almost precisely halfway between Parliament and Lenox's own house in Hampden Lane, which was situated in the leafy, more sedate precincts of Grosvenor Square.
John Dallington, the youngest son of a very kindly duke and duchess, must have been twenty-seven or -eight by now—but he was fixed in many London minds as a disreputable cad of twenty, who had been sent down from Cambridge in sordid circumstances, then spent the subsequent years making the acquaintance of every gin hall and debauched aristocrat in Mayfair.
This image might have been just once, but by now it was unfair. Lenox knew as much firsthand. Several years before, Dallington had, to the older man's very great astonishment, expressed an interest in detective work, and though the lad was still prone, in times of boredom, to relapse, visiting with friends from that less seemly era of his life, by and large he had settled into adulthood. His apprenticeship to Lenox had been profitable to both men. Indeed, through his own intelligence and industry he had now succeeded Lenox as the premier private detective in the city—or at the very least trailing just behind one or two other men who followed the same calling.
Dallington inhabited a chalk-colored building of four floors, taking the large second story for himself. At the front door now was the neighborhood's postman, in his familiar uniform, the scarlet tunic and high black hat. Dallington's landlady—a redoubtable and highly proper personage in her twenty-fifth month of mourning for her husband, only a little black crepe around her shoulders—answered the door and took the post, then saw Lenox farther down the steps.
"Mr. Lenox?" she said, as the postman touched his hat and retreated.
"How do you do, Mrs. Lucas?" Lenox asked, climbing the steps.
"Are you here to see Lord John, sir?"
"If I might."
"Perhaps you can convince him to take his toast and water."
"Has he been ill?" Toast and water was the food considered most suitable for convalescents, at least for those who belonged to the generation of Lenox, of Mrs. Lucas, of Twinkleton—boiling water poured over burnt toast, and mashed into something like gruel. Personally Lenox had never found it palatable.
This made sense of the note, at any rate, which had contained a postscript apologizing that the young lord couldn't come to him.
"You shall see for yourself," she said, turning and leading him into the dim hallway.
"Not contagious, is he?"
"Only his mood, sir."
She lifted a candle from the table in the front hall and led him up the stairs. A boy was sweeping them but made way.
"Mr. Lenox, here to see you," called the landlady when they reached Dallington's door, tapping it chidingly with her nails.
"Push him in!" called out the young lord. "Unless he doesn't like to get consumption."
"Ignore him," she whispered. "Good evening, Mr. Lenox."
"Good evening, Mrs. Lucas."
By contrast to the shadowy stairwell, Dallington's rooms were a riot of light, candles and lamps everywhere. Such was his preference. Because of that the air was always tolerably warm there, especially now, in the spring. The sitting room one entered from the hall was pleasant and comfortable, with dog-eared books in piles upon the mantel and one of the sofas, watercolors of Scotland upon the wall, and a cottage piano in the corner.
"How do you do, Dallington?" asked Lenox, smiling.
The young man lay upon a divan, surrounded by discarded newspapers and letters stuffed back into their envelopes. He wore—the privilege of the ill—comfortable clothes, a soft jacket of blue merino and gray woolen trousers, with scarlet slippers on his feet. "Oh, not very badly."
"I'm glad to hear it. Now—"
"Though if I die I would like you to have my collection of neckties."
"They're too colorful for me. It might be that an especially garish meat-pie seller would agree to take possession of the quieter ones."
Dallington laughed. "In truth it's only a head cold, but I must keep Lucas on her toes, or she's liable to come it pretty high. Toast and water, indeed."
His appearance made a lie of this deprecation, however. Despite his years of drink he was usually healthy-looking, face unlined, hair sleek and black. At the moment, by contrast, his skin was pallid, his eyes red, his person disheveled, and on top of that he had a nearly continuous cough, though he managed mostly to stifle it in a handkerchief. It seemed no wonder that he didn't feel equal to venturing out upon a case.
"I can't stay long," Lenox said.
"Of course, and thank you for coming—I thought perhaps you might not be able to get away from the Commons at all. It's only that I'm due out to meet a client at eight in the morning, and finally decided two hours ago that I don't think I can go."
"You couldn't reschedule?"
"That's the damnable bit, I—" Here Dallington broke into a fit of coughing, before finally going on in a hoarse voice. "I have no way of reaching the person who sent the note. An enigmatic missive, too. You can pick it out from the birdcage, if you like, the red envelope."
This brass birdcage, absent of avian life, was where Dallington kept his professional correspondence. It hung near the window. Lenox went to it and found the letter Dallington meant, tucked between two bars. It was undated.
Excerpted from An Old Betrayal by Charles Finch. Copyright © 2013 Charles Finch. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have read all of the books in the series, and I have enjoyed each one. At this point in the series, Lennox, the detective, has been in Parliament for some four years. But he is still finding himself torn between his interests in politics and his interests in detection. This time he is called into the case by his friend Lord John Dallington (who he mentored in earlier books). After he makes a "flub" in meeting Dallington's client, he goes on a search to correct the error, which of course leads him deeper into the mystery. Part of the charm of these books is Lennox's relationship with his wife, friends, and other helpmeets. In this way, the books are like Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter mysteries. In some ways, the side stories are more engrossing than the mystery. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but you may want to read the other books first if you haven't already. I would recommend the book to others who are fans of the Charles Lennox mysteries.
This book is the best (so far) of the series. I won't tell any of the plot - that can be found elsewhere if you are interested. What I enjoyed was getting to know more about the characters and the fact that a whole new avenue - several in fact - has just opened up. If you are new to the series, read some of the earlier ones first - although you can skip the one set on the ship.
Years ago, when I read A Beautiful Blue Death, the first in this series, I was completely captivated by its charm and its debonair sleuth, Charles Lenox. I’m still just as entranced today with the seventh book. It has been a while since the upper class Lenox last occupied himself as a private investigator and there have been other major changes in his life since that first adventure including getting married and becoming a Member of Parliament representing the Liberal Party. His young protege, Lord John Dallington, is now London’s lead private investigator but, truth be told, Lenox misses that life. It’s no surprise, then, that he readily agrees when Lord John requests his help with a potential client. Little does he know that even the first attempt at meeting this client will be a mystery in itself and lead to him re-thinking an expectation. He has, in fact, blown the rendezvous, and he doesn’t find out until later that this mysterious person is connected to Buckingham Palace. Twists and turns lead Lenox to more and more complexity as he is drawn deeper into the case and murder becomes entangled with age-old animosities and the possibility of the Victorian version of terrorism. In the meantime, he is in the thick of Parliamentary concerns and comes to a surprising decision that will have significant effects on his own life. Betrayal takes many forms and becomes a common theme in his present endeavors. It was a pleasure to visit again with old friends Lenox and his wife, Lady Jane, as well as Graham, butler turned political assistant, Lord John and Inspector Jenkins of Scotland Yard. Most readers new to the series will want to start at the beginning as that’s really the only way to fully enjoy the relationships among all these companionable people. Adding to the charm of of these characters is a vivid evocation of Victorian England and stellar plotting with more than a few puzzles and side stories along the way. Charles Finch is an author who is at the top of the historical mystery field.
Quietly suspenceful and entertaining read. The story is enhanced with the inclusion of historical figures and multiple story lines with unexpected twists. Reminicent of Georgette Heyer and Agatha Christie mysteries.
Having read the first six books in the Charles Lenox Series, I am thoroughly enjoying reading this seventh book in the Series. All the characters are familiar having met them in the previous books. So, it's a fun read.
As always Charles Finch has written another wonderful mystery that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I've read all of the entire Charles Lenox series and was never disappointed. Must read!
I absolutely love this series and An Old Betrayal did not disappoint. I particularly enjoy getting to know the regular characters appearing throughout the books along with the mystery and bits of history Finch puts in his books; well researched and written.