Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Charles Finch's The Woman in the Water, a prequel to his long-running Victorian detective series

In this engrossing prequel to the Charles Lenox mysteries, set in 1850, Finch’s amiable aristocratic hero is not yet the distinguished Parliamentarian and private detective who will feature in ten more full-length novels. He has the same brilliantly deductive mind that will serve him well in the future but, as a 23-year-old Oxford grad, he lacks maturity and life experience and is wise enough to know it.

Living in a flat on London’s St. James’s Square, Lenox and his valet, Graham, spend their days clipping crime-related articles from newspapers and seeking patterns that may lead to an initial case. He gets his break after spying a pretentious letter to the editor from a writer bragging about committing the perfect crime. When Lenox spots connections others don’t, and links the letter to the month-old discovery of a woman’s body from a waterlogged trunk, Scotland Yard finally starts paying attention.

This novel offers many pleasures, not least of which is the opportunity to puzzle out the solution to this intricate mystery alongside Lenox. Although as a baronet’s second son, he’s a privileged sort who has no material wants, he swiftly gains the reader’s sympathy. Aside from a few close friends, his social circle thinks he’s crazy for wanting to pursue a career at all, while experienced policemen joke about the “young inspector” and his sidekick valet (it doesn’t help that Lenox pronounces that word with a hard “t”). Lenox is also desperately in love with a female friend, and realized this much too late.

Gently wry humor emerges through Lenox’s banter with Graham, and in how he evades his redoubtable housekeeper’s lengthy to-do list. On the serious side, Lenox faces devastating family news and the emotional impact of a real-life murder investigation. Both newcomers and series regulars should find themselves drawn in.

The Woman in the Water was published by Minotaur, the mystery imprint of St. Martin's Press, in February; I reviewed it for May's Historical Novels Review.

The nice thing about prequels to lengthy series (this is the 1st or 11th, depending on how you look at it) is that if you prefer to read in chronological order, you can easily start here. I've reviewed a number of other books in the series, as follows, plus the author contributed a guest post, When Did the Victorians Drink Their Tea?, back in 2014.

Gone Before Christmas, a mystery short story (2017)
Home By Nightfall (2015)
The Laws of Murder (2014)

Macmillan's website says Finch's upcoming mystery, The Vanishing Man, will be the 2nd in a prequel trilogy. I can't wait.


  1. Liz V.10:02 AM

    Enjoyed this series very much. Glad to learn more are coming.

  2. Me too. I have many of the older ones to catch up with, too.

  3. This one has been on my TBR list since February - fun books.

  4. Thanks for introducing me to the series - I'm going to read the first one from 2007 first.

  5. Thanks for commenting, and sorry for the late reply! My ISP has been blocking notifications from Blogger.

    They are fun, and I like Lenox a lot. I haven't read the first book from 2007 yet and really should.