Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on A Death in the Small Hours.
Finch’s mystery novels are particularly enjoyable for their nostalgic framing of times past: Victorian London, a rigid society of class and ritual. While thrilled to take advantage of his new career opportunities as a Member of Parliament, Charles Lenox does miss the days when he was a private investigator, able to keep a hand in through a friend/mentorship with John Dallington, the young scion of a wealthy family. Though Dallington often gets sidetracked by his appetites—worrisome to his family—he is a talented investigator when so inspired.
Recently asked to deliver a speech before Parliament, Charles accepts an invite from his uncle in Somerset, hoping the peace of the country will help him concentrate. Unfortunately, a spate of vandalism has disturbed the usually serene village of Plumbley, a growing mystery that draws Lenox into an investigation that eventually includes the murder of a young man: “Money and crime are rarely cohabitants of the same neighborhood at random.” As circumstances dictate, young Dallington happens to be available for a recuperative visit to the estate, providing Charles with the extra assistance her requires in a case of many unraveling threads.
Minute attention to detail, the nuances of class and the distractions of politics give Finch’s mystery its distinct flavor. Lenox’s actions are couched in propriety and genteel manners, the demands of a gentleman’s life in sharp contrast to the daily struggles of the working poor. Lenox’s personal and professional relationships, the evolution of a new marriage and the attempts of family to direct a wayward young man are all part of the fabric of the tale, the recent murder compelling Lenox to takes risks he might not otherwise entertain. The relaxing country visit becomes rather more involved. Kidnapping, vandalism and skullduggery all await the unsuspecting Charles and his genteel uncle.
Finch has an astute eye for class distinctions and the rhythms of a country in thrall to the ruling of the many by the educated few, capturing both the flavor and flaws of that society and celebrating the gentleman’s best intentions to treat the less fortunate equitably under the law and without condescension. A person of culture, refinement and sensitivity, Lenox is an admirable protagonist, his adventures a view to the past where elegance and style define a lifestyle, but moral consciousness is the trait of a man to be trusted.