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AN EXTRAVAGANT DEATH by Charles Finch: Book Review

An Englishman born and bred, Charles Lenox is about to take a voyage, somewhat reluctantly, to the United States.

In a previous novel, Lenox’s investigation led to uncovering a major scandal at Scotland Yard.  Now the Prime Minister himself, on behalf of the Queen’s government, has asked Lenox to allow the barristers to use his written account at the trial rather than having him give his testimony in person.  Listening to his testimony read out by the dry voice of a barrister, Benjamin Disraeli says, would be given great weight by the jury without the “ravenous press” having an opportunity to interview and harass Lenox and, of course, further embarrass the government.

Disraeli assures Lenox that there was no way the three accused Scotland Yard inspectors could go free, and thus the detective is persuaded to make himself unavailable during the trial and visit America.

Lenox is reluctant to leave his wife and their two young daughters to go to America on a fact-finding visit, as the government wishes him to do.  However, he believes it’s his duty to follow his Queen’s wishes, and Lady Jane, his wife, gives her blessing to his trip.  So he leaves, first stopping in New York and then, according to his plan, Boston.

However, the best laid plans, as they say, often go awry.  At a luncheon in Manhattan the detective meets Teddy Blaine, son of an immensely wealthy family, who is a devotee of mysteries and murder cases.  Together they set out on the train to Boston the day after the luncheon to discuss all matters relating to deduction, but after the train pulls out of the Stamford, Connecticut station it suddenly stops.

A messenger boards bearing a telegram; it says that there has been a murder in Newport, and the writer of the telegram requests that Lenox investigate it.  The message is signed William Stuyvesant Schermerhorn IV, and Blaine assures Lenox that he is a man above reproach.  Hoping that it will be easy to find the murderer, the detective agrees to a short stay in the wealthy Rhode Island enclave, and Blaine asks to follow along and perhaps be of help.

Lily Allingham is the young woman who was murdered.  Her radiant beauty had turned Newport society upside down, with its wealthy inhabitants offering party invitations and boat trips to attract her.  Two wealthy young men, Willie Schermerhorn and Lawrence Vanderbilt, were courting her, but it seems that no one knows if she had decided which one would be her future husband.  Then, in the midst of one of the city’s many balls, she unceremoniously left by herself and was later found dead on the property belonging to one of the suitors.

An Extravagant Death is an apt title for a book set in one of the wealthiest locations in the United States.  Families with the names of Astor, Vanderbilt (the latter family is considered nouveau riche and therefore not in the top tier of Newport society), Morgans, Wideners, and Schermerhorns live in their “cottages” for six weeks every summer before moving on to one of their other homes, and it’s a delight to read about the mores and scandals of the 19th-century elite.

Charles Finch’s latest novel is a wonderful addition to the Charles Lenox mysteries.  You can read more about him on many sites on the internet.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

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