A Stranger in Mayfair
Charles Finch
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Buy *A Stranger in Mayfair (Charles Lenox Mysteries)* by Charles Finch online

A Stranger in Mayfair (Charles Lenox Mysteries)
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books
336 pages
July 2011
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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In a tone similar to Tasha Alexander’s "Lady Emily" series, Finch ties the parliamentary machinations of Victorian England to a provocative murder mystery as intrepid investigator Charles Lenox returns from Europe with his lovely wife, Lady Jane Grey, to solve the homicide of nineteen-year-old Frederick Clarke. A footman currently in the employ of Ludovic “Ludo” Starling, Freddy has been found bludgeoned to death in a dank alley just behind Ludo’s stately Mayfair mansion.

An ambitious parliamentarian and an old friend of Charles, Ludo visits Lenox in his London home and tells him about the lad’s mother - Marie Clarke, who was their housekeeper briefly about fifteen years ago. Ludo has promised his wife, Elizabeth, to ask for Lenox’s help in solving the crime. While Ludo begs for his friend’s discretion, Lenox notices that he's restless and anxious, perhaps in part fuelled by the talk of a title and the prospects that he may indeed be elevated to the House of Lords.

Lenox, puzzled by Ludo’s uncharacteristic behavior, wonders why Grayson Fowler - the chief detective at Scotland Yard - can’t handle the murder enquiry. Still, Lenox decides to enlist the help of his dapper apprentice, John Dallington, and visit the murder scene. As the sounds of Frederick Clarke’s life gradually wear on “like the blank, unvarying noise of an ocean,” Lenox and Dallington begin their critical investigation of the crime, turning at once to the Starling family and their shroud of heavy unease.

Lenox is suspicious of pretty but fragile Elizabeth, who remains unsettled and disturbed by the shocking event. There’s also the mystery behind Ludo’s agitated manner and his odd braggadocio over his claims for a palace-bestowed title. Clearly, there's deep dysfunction in this household. As Lenox and Dallington walk slowly though the pristine, vacant streets of Mayfair, rapidly sorting through a baffling number of facts and possibilities, they realize that something terribly odd was happening in Freddie Clarke’s life.

Like other detective stories of this genre, this novel readily incorporates fact and hypothesis with clues and suspicions as Lenox and Dallington move from one suspect to another. Intelligence, menial labor and a well-tailored suit, combined with an expensive-looking gentlemen’s signet ring made of heavy greenish-yellow gold, lead the detectives to conclude that Frederick was wise beyond his years and perhaps playing at being "the young aristocrat."

Using Lenox’s position as a newly-minted member of parliament, the author ciphers many of the political and social realities of the time: the galvanizing realization of the public danger of cholera; the gin-soaked sorrows of the less fortunate; and the idealism and political innocence of Lenox as he seeks to become a serious participant in the grand game of British politics.

As the action descends into double-crossing, lies, violence and betrayal, Lenox delivers the perpetrator, even when he often finds himself pulled in too many directions. Doubting whether he truly belongs in parliament, at least Lenox can be satisfied that he's brought a measure of closure to the irreparably compromised life of poor, doomed, misunderstood Frederick Clarke.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2011

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