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HOME BY NIGHTFALL by Charles Finch: Book Review

Charles Lenox is one of the most charming protagonists around.  The younger son of a baronet, Charles has recently returned to his first love, detecting, after spending several years in the House of Lords.  Although it’s considered not quite “the thing” for a member of the nobility to be “in trade,” Charles has decided that this is what he wants to do with his life and so is now the senior partner of Lenox, Strickland, and Dallington, private enquiry agents in London.

The novel opens with all of the city, and indeed the entire country, in upheaval following the disappearance of Muller, the renowned German pianist.  Muller got up from the piano bench at the end of a concert, walked into his dressing room, and hasn’t been seen since.  The entire concert hall was searched, as was his hotel room and all the various sites around London that the musician was known to frequent, but without result.  To coin a cliché, apparently the man disappeared into thin air.

Charles offers his services to Scotland Yard; instead, the firm of his former business partner Lemaire is chosen to find the missing man.  Naturally, this has made Charles and his partners, Polly Strickland and Lord John Dallington, even more determined to solve the case, score against Lemaire, and gain the publicity that would go with locating Muller.

At the same time, Charles is trying to help his older brother, Edmund, who is dealing with the unexpected death of his beloved wife.  Molly died suddenly after the onset of a fever, and Edmund is deep in mourning.  Making the situation even more unbearable is the fact that both their grown sons are away, one in Kenya and the other in the navy, so the ordeal of informing them of their mother’s death still hangs over Edmund.

Some of the most enjoyable aspects of Home By Nightfall are the clever asides that place the reader firmly in 19th-century England.  Did you know that at that time it was possible to rent, rather than subscribe to, the daily editions of The Times; a year’s subscription cost nine pounds, “not an inconsiderable sum.”  Instead, most readers rented the paper for a hour a day, which cost about a pound per year, while renting the previous day’s paper cost a quarter of a pound per year!  And at the time the novel takes place, there were six daily mail deliveries a day in London, four in the countryside.  No wonder no one thought to invent e-mail!

Home Before Nightfall is the ninth Charles Lenox adventure, so there’s a lot of catching up to do if this is your first look at the series.  Although this book can certainly be read on its own, it’s much more enjoyable when you know the backstory of Charles, his aristocratic wife Lady Jane, and his partners in the firm.  But if you’re too impatient to start at the beginning of the series with A Beautiful Blue Death, you can start with Home Before Nightfall.  It’s a terrific read, with believable characters and an engrossing plot.

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.


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