Monday, November 18, 2013

Over too quickly

When a fictional detective announces he has solved the case barely halfway into the book, you know there must be a few surprises still to come. The problem with A Death in the Small Hours (Minotaur), the new Charles Finch paperback, is that there aren't nearly enough surprises. The second half of the novel, filled with details about a speech in Parliament, wedding plans and various domestic affairs, isn't nearly as interesting as the first half. What we have, essentially, is a 100-page denouement.

Ah, but that first half makes fine reading. Charles Lenox, Finch's Victorian gentleman hero, finds himself so busy after becoming a member of Parliament that he no longer has time for his first love, solving difficult criminal cases. He has a major speech to prepare for, so he flees London with his wife, Jane, and baby daughter, Sophia, to his uncle's country estate, where he thinks he can find enough isolation to finish writing the speech.

But the village of Plumbley has been plagued with a series of unusual cases of vandalism, and Charles is asked to look into the matter. When a young police officer is murdered, Charles really gets interested. He thinks the murder and vandalism are related.

Charles sorts things out with surprising quickness, wrapping up several crimes all at once. Yet he hasn't quite solved the entire mystery, and this loose end leads to yet another murder.

Charles Lenox fans will want to catch this installment in the series. Other mystery readers might want to give it a pass.

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