Monday, September 12, 2011

RIP CHALLENGE: A Stranger in Mayfair by Charles Finch

A Stranger in Mayfair is the fourth Charles Lenox mystery and equally as simply and cozily enjoyable as the first three.

It begins while Charles Lenox and his long time friend ( and now wife), Lady Jane Grey are on their Continental honeymoon. We are given our first snapshot of the Parliamentary man/Amateur Detective by two gossiping women in a restaurant who remark on Charles’ physical appearance, his past successes and his lovely wife. Thus, ushers in another quiet adventure about class systems, intelligence and the baser points of human nature.

Charles, his assistant Dallington, his medical friend McConnell and his butler-turned-parliamentary assistant Graham all help in discovering the death of a young servant worker in a prominent Mayfair household.

The Graham/Lenox relationship will remind readers of Bunter and Wimsey; but somehow, although Finch keeps reminding us of the camaraderie and affection which exists between the two men, we never actually see it. I am told by the narrator that they are fond of each other (knowing each other since Lenox’s youthful Oxford days) and yet Graham is not given enough page time to prove this. The same can be said for the other relationships stranded through the series: I am told that Charles and Lady Jane Grey have a long and meaningful friendship; but it is not demonstrative on page. Hopefully as the series continues, Finch will show the same competence for character development as he does for quietly ushering in plot twists, exuding a wealth of London parliamentary, historical and geographical knowledge and painting a life-like 19th Century world.

The writing style is charming as befits cozies set in this time period: with a knack for intelligence as befits Lenox’s upper-end station. However, the chapter endings seem so dense in their portentous foreshadowing that one is reminded of the cliffhangers in those RL Stine Fear Street mysteries. This is another case in which we are TOLD to feel and fear; rather than shown.

Nonetheless, with the exception of my little gripes, I do enjoy this series and the lovely Victorian world it recreates. This is a perfect addition to the RIP challenge due to its murder, mayhem, smoke and hansom cabs.

Readers of Anne Perry and Dorothy L. Sayers, above all, will find themselves at home here.

We are treated to Lenox’s next adventure in November


Unknown said...

Murder, mayhem, smoke, and hansom cabs? Sounds fun -- I shall have to give this series a try.

Kailana said...

This has a lot of elements that I would enjoy. I will have to look into it.

Anonymous said...

As a Londoner, I am of two minds on books set Victorian London. On the one hand, I love the rich backdrop of the time. As you rightly call out, the class system, the continental tours, and the gossip. On the other hand, I loathe the sterotypes of the old boys club, the latent sexuality, and the gossip. It can be so cardboard and cliche.

That said, what you describe sounds like quite an interesting read indeed!

I will definitely be adding it to my pending pile.

Thanks for sharing your R.I.P. Challenge reads!

Carl V. Anderson said...

I bought the first of these not long ago for my wife but she hasn't gotten around to reading it. This is the first time I've stumbled across a review and have wondered about the books. Your wonderful description leaves me thinking that she will like it and that I need to go ahead and "borrow" the gift and read it myself. :)

Rachel said...

@bear: i understand what you mean! that said, you live in a beautiful city ( one of my favourites!!)

@carl: oh goodie! "borrowing" after a gift has been given is the best kind of giving! :-)

Joni said...

I thought that Lady Jane Grey was a car... ?