30 November 2009

A Beautiful Blue Death

I picked up A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch last year as part of a buy-2-get-1 deal (the "get 1" part was Interred With Their Bones and I thought that one was terrible).  Victorian mystery/Sherlock Holmes-type sleuth, poison, intrigue....I'm up for a bit of mystery reading.  It sounds like a nice cold-weather-warm-blanket-and-tea book.

To set up the story a bit, because there is a lot of exposition scattered throughout the book, Charles Lenox is the younger son of a baronet (who actually does have enough money to allow Charles a life of leisure) and spends much of his time as an amateur detective and archaeologist.  He lives next door to a childhood sweetheart, Lady Jane Gray (who isn't quite the staid Victorian matron), has a very good relationship with his butler/valet, Graham, and has successfully solved several cases prior to the opening of A Beautiful Blue Death.  Lenox has an eccentric-ish brother, Edmund, a bumbling Scotland Yard inspector, Exeter, and a very good friend who happens to be an experienced physician, McConnel, married to a pretty woman, Toto (Victoria).  Lenox is also very observant, to the point of noting an MP would probably switch constituencies based on the change of pocket-watch displayed.  Can you see all the Sherlock parallels?  Watson, Mycroft, Mrs. Watson, Irene Adler, Lestraude?  Although the story is quite well-written and very enjoyable I probably would have quit reading if Lenox had turned out to both play the violin at all hours and go masquerading as an opium-den denzien (it is acknowledged that Lenox has disguised himself in prior cases but does not do so during this book).

Finch uses a deft hand to bring 1860s London to life as well as the politics of the day (politics and financial hanky-panky are very closely tied in this book).  There is also a considerable amount of musing on the problem of poverty and social class which was quite well-written and didn't intrude on the storyline.  Lenox does fret a bit too much over his friend McConnell's relationship with the gin bottle, in my opinion, but it at least doesn't go too far into modern psychological thinking.

There is one grating scene about three chapters from the end of the novel.  Lenox receives a telegram update about one of the major players in the mystery and Finch suddenly follows this character through the rest of his lifetime in the next two pages.  The final meeting of this character and Lenox, about 30 years after the scene were Lenox receives the telegram, is even described.  It's very wierd, makes very little practical sense, stops the falling action of the book, and then the next chapter opening doesn't even resume the action smoothly.  Definitely needed more editing for that bit because it really set my teeth on edge.

I am still interested in the series so at some point I'll pick up The September Society.

Clear Off Your Shelves Challenge Count: 17/21

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