Charles Finch’s A Death in the Small Hours finds our armchair detective, Charles Lenox, busy with his Parliament duties and fatherhood and definitely in need of a vacation. Luckily, as is often the case with rich British aristocrats in the 19th century, an uncle invites the Lenox family to spend some time in his home in the country near Bath. Of course, this being a mystery series, violence and murder happen in the uncle’s charming town and Lenox feels invigorated to be back in the detecting game once again.
Honestly, I’m having a little trouble coming up with things to discuss for this one. This book is the sixth Charles Lenox mystery, and is often the case with long-running series, this one is just ok. The series has been giving us diminishing returns ever since Lenox joined Parliament – once he hung up his sleuthing hat, so to speak, the reasons for his involvement in any case are a stretch. Much of this novel focused on Lenox’s preparations for his big speech to the members of Parliament, his pre-occupation and joy at being a new father, and his fond memories for an old estate where he spent many wonderful summers with his mother as a youngster. Very little is actually devoted to the mystery. The culprit is sort of a surprise and there aren’t that many clues that I really picked up on. This is odd considering Finch’s prose can be pretty obvious when it’s trying to point you in a particular direction. However, it seems to dance around things and at the last minute, hold back. Lenox waits until the last possible minute to do his big reveal, like at the end of a Poirot episode, but for several chapters before the denouement, he’d been telling his cohorts he knew who the killer was. As if I’d let someone just say that and walk away without a hint!
I was reading this novel on a plane and under easy distractions (a tropical beach in Cancun, deeeeeeeeelightful), so perhaps it was my fault for not having been as committed to the experience. I see that Finch released a seventh book just this week; I’ll probably read it but I do kind of hope it’s the last. Finch is a good writer generally, but I think we can all agree that once a series of novels goes beyond trilogy territory (with some few exceptions, of course), we’re talking just more of the same. My assessment is this – read this one if you dig 19th century British mystery stories, but you’re better off starting with earlier Lenox tales.