|Image courtesy of Tantor.com|
Enter a cure for the winter doldrums and an inspiration for the ear and mind. A Beautiful Blue Death, Book 1 in the Charles Lenox Mysteries series written by Charles Finch and read by James Langton, is set in Victorian London and has all the markings of a frightfully buttoned up bore. It soon proves to be exactly the opposite - murder by poisoning of a maid (tidy enough for even the most delicate sensibilities) is uncovered despite a hasty conclusion of suicide. Langton's crisp British tenor buoys the plot along with an impressive array of regional accents and tones.
Mysteries are not easy things to write, particularly good ones. It takes patience and willingness to intricately weave a plot that is intriguing enough to tease the reader or listener into seeing it through to the end, but not giving away too much as to cause the audience to solve the crime too early (or, in many cases, at all). Our man Lenox is an aristocrat without being obnoxious, and fully admits to his status of being an "amateur detective." The numerous historical tidbits referring to trends of the time, from food to the way wood is stacked, shows the mark of exhaustive research on the part of the author to fully immerse the audience within the time period. The slow burn attraction between Lenox and our heroine Lady Jane is charming, enhanced by the appropriate emotional depth of Langton's narration. The juxaposition of these two characters as next-door neighbors and old friends makes the ongoing daily interaction of the opposite sexes, minus a chaperone in such strict social times, plausible - also the fact that they are both so terribly proper (until they aren't, that is).
Perhaps my only complaint about the plot is the copious amount of plodding through conversations (lots and LOTS of tea and sandwiches) in order to get to the bottom of things, which may try the patience of someone more accustomed to fast-paced thrillers. But Langton does masterful work in building the suspense while maintaining a very firm "stiff upper lip" that Lenox as a character cultivates within himself despite the most desperate of situations. Langton also pays strict attention to vocal consistency of multiple recurring characters and slips easily from the rarified polish of the upper class to the coarser notes of servants, footmen, and street thugs.It is a story that I believe Dickens himself might have enjoyed by the fire with a strong cup of tea on a cold winter's eve.