Saturday, March 27, 2021

An Extravagant Death by Charles Finch sends his Victorian detective overseas to Gilded Age Newport

In this fourteenth volume of his Charles Lenox mysteries, Finch changes things up by sending his refined detective-hero on a jaunt to America.

In 1878, following Lenox’s successful exposure of a corruption scandal at the heart of Scotland Yard, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli judges it politically prudent for Lenox to be out of the country when the trial gets underway, so he engineers an overseas tour in which Lenox will meet with American law enforcement about current methods of detection. With his successful business and growing family (including infant daughter Clara), Lenox never got the opportunity to explore the world as he'd once dreamed. His wife Lady Jane, always a wise and steadying influence, encourages him to go.

Then his train trip from Manhattan to Boston gets derailed (figuratively) when the bodyguard for William Schermerhorn IV boards Lenox’s car and requests that he investigate a crime in Newport, Rhode Island, the summer residence of New York’s moneyed elite. The body of Miss Lily Allingham, a noted beauty, was found below a cliff in the wee hours following a fancy-dress ball. Her two suitors are the most likely suspects. The request disconcerts Lenox, since it smacks of entitlement: he doesn’t like acting at anyone’s beck and call.

Lenox is immensely likeable, always a plus in a series with a recurring protagonist. His methodology is thoughtful, he loves his family and has many dear friends, and he’s a witty observer of (and participant in) the social rituals of Victorian England – both city and countryside. Gilded Age America has its own unofficial aristocracy, though, and Lenox’s mental adjustments to the differences from England are fun to observe. Between the Knickerbockers with their Old-World city wealth and the enormous but tightly packed “cottages” gracing Newport’s coastline, Lenox is simply agog at the ostentatious opulence.

Lenox gains a potential protégé, a rich man’s son who yearns to be a detective, and sees his own past reflected in the younger fellow. Also tying this book together neatly with the recent prequel trilogy is a character Lenox meets up with in Newport, someone who made their first appearance in The Last Passenger, set over two decades earlier.

The mystery plot proceeds apace, but the culprit isn’t obvious. Few can imagine anyone who wanted Miss Allingham out of the picture. The solution, when it arrives, doesn’t feel wholly satisfying for several reasons, but Lenox is such good company that this shouldn’t deter anyone from pursuing his future adventures.

An Extravagant Death was published by Minotaur in February; thanks to the publisher for the review copy.


  1. I read my first Charles Finch just a week ago and am only sad that I could not find this author earlier. I loved Lenox, his style of detection the unassuming quiet gentleman.

  2. Hi Mystica, I'm so glad you got the chance to read this series too. Lenox is a big reason why I enjoy it so much.

  3. I'm always on the look out for a historical mystery series to follow, so will definitely give this series a try. I like to binge read mystery series, so it's good that there are fourteen books to read :-)

    1. I binge read this one until I got caught up! Although I started in the middle, so I still have a few of the earlier ones to look forward to reading.