One would think that an inheritance, especially an unexpected one, would be a welcome thing. But that is not always the case.
Charles Lenox is surprised and a bit concerned by the letter sent to him by an old school acquaintance, Gerald Leigh, wanting to meet him again. Gerald was a friend, although not a close one, when both were students at Harrow, the famed English boarding school that was founded in 1572. Nearly all of the boys attending the school came from noble or wealthy families with ties to the school that went back generations, but Gerald was not one of those boys.
Regardless, his father had been determined to send him to Harrow, but Mr. Leigh’s untimely death left no money for the tuition. Gerald, however, was notified by the school’s administration that he was the recipient of a bequest that would pay his school costs. The unknown philanthropist was called M. B., the Mysterious Benefactor, by Gerald and Charles. The former cursed this nameless person vigorously, as his only desire was to leave school and return home to his mother and his all-consuming study of flora and fauna. In time he achieved this goal by flunking out, almost deliberately.
Now, thirty years later, Charles receives Gerald’s letter, arranging for an appointment at Charles’ home. But Gerald never arrives, and the next day, when Charles goes to the hotel mentioned in the letter, it is apparent that his friend, although still registered, has not been there since the day the meeting between the two was scheduled.
Charles is concerned with other problems at the same time that he looks into Gerald’s disappearance: his wife’s unhappiness, the tension between his two partners, and a strange crisis in Parliament. When he does find Gerald, things get even more bizarre, for now there is a second bequest from an unknown person. Is it the same Mysterious Benefactor from Gerald’s school days, or is it someone else?
Having read several of the books in this series, one of the things I find most delightful is the author’s clever insertion of interesting facts that I’d never given much thought to before. The expression “by hook or by crook”? A laborer, by generations of tradition, was allowed to get firewood from his squire’s land. He wasn’t permitted to cut it down, but he could get any branches that had fallen by using a hooked branch or the crook of his walking stick. “Bunk?” It means nonsense and comes from a speech given in Buncombe County, North Carolina; it had transmogrified into bunkum and then bunk. There are several more examples like this in The Inheritance, but you’ll have to read the book to find them.
Charles Finch has created one of the most intelligent, interesting protagonists around. The Inheritance is the tenth book in the series, and it is as well-written and satisfying as the earlier ones. The setting, the second half of the nineteenth century in London, is beautifully drawn, the plot is engrossing, and the personalities of all the characters are vivid. There’s not a misstep in the novel.
You can read more about Charles Finch at various sites on the web.
Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.