Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on A Death in the Small Hours.
In a tale that opens oon after the violent adventures in A Burial At Sea, Parliamentarian and amateur sleuth Charles Lenox travels to Everley, the estate of his uncle Frederick Ponsonby in Plumbley, Somerset, for a much needed period of convalescence. Charles and his wife, Lady Jane, are basking in the glow of new parenthood and the enchanting motions of their baby Sophie,
while certain affairs of State are accumulating on Charles’s desk at Hampden Place.
Charles is fond of his
uncle, an eccentric and retiring man who is devoted to his small ancient country house and who always takes great pleasure in company. But any notion that Charles might get a well-earned rest in the lap of genial Frederick is put to rest when he informs Charles that someone has been breaking windows and painting doorways around the town. Images of a black dog--which in folk tradition means death--and drawings of a
Roman numeral have laced the doors of Fripps and Wells, two local merchants who have recently fallen on hard times.
Wells’s talk of the facts of the crimes--the broken windows and the paint on the church door--tallies exactly with Frederick’s tale. Meanwhile, Constable Oats, "dulled with fatigue from sherry," enlists Charles to help solve the mystery and to find justice, even if it means working overtime. Following protocol, the investigation seems to stall until a violent murder on the village green and a vital clue that frames local aristocrat Captain Musgrave.
Never one to pass judgment, acquisitive Lenox is ashamed to repeat the lazy village gossip.
Ultimately, Charles is a man with a forgiving heart and a deep. abiding social conscience fortified by his numerous accomplishments. In this sense, Charles becomes our a voyeuristic conduit to the Victorian era and the late nineteenth century, where Charles and his best friend, handsome John Dallington, work to solve the detective’s thorniest case in years.
Moving between bucolic Somerset and London, where the coal dust shrouds in dark yellow smudges, Finch again imitates the structure and style of novels of the Victorian Gothic.
He manages to balance the dense, often trudging prose and pacing with contemporary expectations of plotting and style. The novel is well written and not difficult to read.
Although the actual mystery comes across as a bit weak, the author's detailed descriptions of Victorian society
manifest in Lenox’s thoughts as he details with great passion his role in the epoch's profound social changes.
All the characters are aptly Victorian: aristocratic Frederick; cautious Charles, torn between his love of politics and his passion for crime; John Dallington, sent from Cambridge under an angry cloud of rumor and pledging to investigate every ale house, gambling pit, and gin parlor in London; governess Miss Taylor, who bears a far greater weight of aspiration than
was previously understood; and sullen, elusive Captain Musgrave, a man of great military self-possession who perhaps knows more about the vandalisms than he’s letting on.
Once the investigation begins, the revelations come quickly (as well as a bracing game of cricket!) in a world of genteel manners and infant forensic techniques reflected in the whorls and ridges of the finger pad.
Courageous Charles seeks out every opportunity to sacrifice for the sake of others as the events of the story move rapidly, the dramatic conclusion to the lively tale caused by a dreaded combination of greed and evil.