Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Death Comes to Pemberly by P.D. James

Death Comes to Pemberley was my introduction to the world-renown Baroness of Holland Park P.D. James, and so I am crushed to report I did not enjoy this book at all.

I was so excited to read it, too.

First, I would finally be introduced to P.D. James and, given the subject of this blog, I'm well aware of how ridiculous it is I haven't read anything else by her.

Secondly, although not a cosplaying, fanfiction-writing, convention-attending fangirl, I do so love Jane Austen. Aside from the Sherlock Holmes canon, which I re-read when I was younger every November for about six years straight, I am not, as a general rule, one for re-reading books. But I have read Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice, and Sense and Sensibility twice each, and suspect at some point down the road I will certainly revisit Emma.

The premise of the mystery is a wonderful one, too. A dark and stormy night, a carriage carrying Elizabeth's infamous sister Lydia (yes, that Lydia, now Mrs. Wickham) to the Darcys' door, a brutally murdered body found in a moonlit field -- the perfect recipe to stay up cataclysmically late reading. In fact, the book jacket's synopsis made save this book for a weekend because I was certain I'd lose track of time and look up from it to see silver clouds and the sun flirting with the skyline.

Which makes this review all the more difficult to write. So I will start on a positive note, and work my way through from there.

The book does succeed in a few notable ways well worth mentioning.

Undeniably, P.D. James captured the tone, syntax and rhythm of Austen's narrative style masterfully. It is obvious James loved Austen and James certainly treated Austen's sparse but piercing writing style with respect, if not reverence. Achieving that level of authenticity is not easily done and James deserves high praise for it.

There was quite a bit of detail on the British legal system, which was at the advent of some pretty exciting and revolutionary changes at the time, and James does a nice job incorporating these. As a former law student and just a nerd in general, I thought these were some of the most interesting parts of the book, but I wouldn't be shocked if others found it to be a bit too much.

There was, of course, some rehashing of Pride of Prejudice, and even though at times I thought it tedious I can forgive it -- not everyone who picks up this book with be familiar with its basis and they deserve a full story arc, too. So for me, that wasn't the issue.

The problem was the book never seemed to really to gain momentum of any kind until the very end and, even then, one subplot was tied up in a way that I can only describe as deus ex machina at best and lazy at worst.

The dialogue felt forced and wooden, turning all of the characters into beige, blurry splotches of their beloved roots, at times nearly interchangeable.

Now, I understand that this is, after all, a pastiche; I think it's unreasonable to expect the characters in any pastiche to be exactly the same as the ones in an original work. And, given that this story takes place a good length of time after Pride and Prejudice, it can be easily argued that the characters, like real people, will have grown and changed from their experiences.

Yet all of the characters sounded like the same person was speaking, particularly the men.

Granted, there was a tone and style to speech in Regency England that reflected one's class and upbringing, and any writing tackling Austen has to be aware of this because Austen herself used that as a narrative tool so well.

So Wickham would have the same speech pattern as Darcy because it would underscore their common upbringing, and serve as a subtle way to remind the reader that despite speaking the same as Darcy they are not, and never were or will be, in the same class caste.

However, that does not mean characters would give up any and all sense of personality. The fact that Austen's characters are still beloved today proves this. But unfortunately, that is exactly what happens in Death Comes to Pemberley. 

If Lydia was being melodramatic, or Darcy frustrated, or Wickham cagey, the reader never knows this by how they act or what they say but because they are told that is the case. This may come down to personal preference but that level of expository writing in fiction simply bores me to tears.

This made a pretty decent twist ending (those who read mysteries frequently will likely figure it out pretty early on) fall flat.

Even the settings have the two-dimensional feel of a cutout for a stage play, like something James had to get through before she could go back to explaining things. The characters didn't so much interact with the places they are in so much as get put there.

Which I suppose, for me, is the best way to sum up why I couldn't get lost in this story. It felt rushed and mechanical, the fiction equivalent of reading a grocery list.

Of course, every well-plotted story has an attendant checklist -- introduce characters, give full context, describe/incorporate settings, etc. etc., and what is a plot if not map? But the reader should never see that process or even know it is happening.

Whereas while slogging my way through this book I couldn't shake the feeling I was reading a detailed basic outline of a proposed story. Had James taken the time to flesh it out a bit more, this could have been a really great pastiche.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Devil's Workshop by Alex Grecian (A Scotland Yard Murder Squad mystery)

Every so often, an installment in an ongoing series will engross me so thoroughly it is all I can do not to stand up after closing the back cover and give the author a standing ovation.

The Devil's Workshop, the third installment of Alex Grecian's Socttland Yard's Murder Squad series, is one of those books.

Grecian succeeds on a dazzling array of levels in this installment: dialogue, setting, plot, pacing; basically, writing. 

He flicks between multiple points of view and settings, changing the narrative voice accordingly, without ever allowing the page-turning, suspense-filled plot to flag. All of the events in the book, remarkably, basically take place over the course of a little over a day.

So the plot and pacing are as good a place to being as any in describing what made this such a wonderful read.

Briefly, this installment finds Detective Walter Day and his loyal partner Nevil Hammersmith being woken in the wee small hours of the morning to find several murderers who have been broken out of a prison. (The prison break itself, by the way, is worth the cost of the admission.)

One of the escaped prisoners is the same serial killer from the first novel in the series, one of Grecian's most skin-crawling villains. The other is The Harvest Man, who is just as chills-inducing and disquieting, the kind of character that whispers in your mind long after you've stopped reading for the night.

Normally, I roll my eyes when authors bring back old antagonists, but in this case Grecian has plausibly, and engrossingly, brought back both. It makes sense both in terms of this particular installment in the series and in terms of the larger, overall series plot arc.

Adding to the plot is the existence of a shadow society that kidnaps and tortures men who they believe have gotten away with murder. One of their victims is Saucy Jack himself, which is why, of course, he seems to have inexplicably disappeared.

On the character development side, Day is nervous about an upcoming major life event and his old mentor returns to help hunt down prisoners.

That's a lot of plot, characters and settings (more on the settings in a bit). Yet Grecian writes so efficiently that the story does not become cluttered with characters and side plots.
No dialogue is wasted; it all furthers the plot or sheds insight into a character. Descriptions are just enough to allow the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks, but are deep enough to get the reader started.

The settings are also rich and varied. They include a tiny street tea vendor's stand, a cozy family home, a desolate prison on the outskirts of London and finally the fiendish twists and turns of underground London, with its rivers, catacombs and abandoned, ancient cellars and all.

Finally, once again I am pleasantly surprised by Grecian's Jack the Ripper. So much has been written about Jack the Ripper, both in nonfiction and fiction, I can't help but approach most series centering around Saucy Jack with a bit of trepidation. As a true crime fan, I've read enough about him to spoil most Ripper pastiches, though I don't ever blame a writer for mining such a rich patch of criminal history.

Grecian's Ripper succeeds because first, it evident that Grecian has done his homework, researching both the Ripper and what his mental illness may have been. So although there is, of course, gory violence that gives one goose bumps and, perhaps, a bit of nausea, it is never gratuitous. It is the logical action based on Jack's own twisted internal logic, and that lends it credibility.

Horror is not a genre I generally read, but every time I read a Scottland Yard's Murder Squad installment I am grateful for Grecian's background in that genre. I read this around Halloween for my scary book and was not disappointed in the least.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Rees (The Palestinian Quartet)

[Warning: The introduction to the review of the book is rather long; I apologize for that but felt it necessary to ensure readers have the complete context from which I base this review. In an era of soundbites, pull quotes, memes and GIFs, I shall plant my lonely flag of exposition. It’s a luxury afforded to those of us who have maybe two people who read our blog.]

It's easy in today’s information-saturated age to believe one understands a place and its people, even never having been there (or spoken to anyone who has). It is so effortless, after all, to binge watch YouTube lectures and read an assortment of blogs, articles and – for the true cyber-anthropologists – all the comments below said videos or articles.

That said, it is equally easy to become so inundated with information, from so many conflicting sources, that one loses all hope of ever understanding other places, cultures and people.

Finally, there are those who moor against the unceasing tidal waves of information by sheltering within unshakable conviction.

Thankfully, fiction allows an alternate avenue to information about cultures, places, nations and, naturally, conflict. If a work a good – and I don’t mean just entertaining, I mean a piece that truly masters a genre – then intertwined with dialogue and people spun from thin air are real, honest facts and truths about the character’s setting, societal norms and culture.[1]

Fiction allows us to learn and absorb information in a way that somewhat cushions against the modern instinct -- not misplaced --  to analyze the source and its motives. We already know that story is the motive and we trust the writer has done the due diligence to make it a story worth being told.

Perhaps that’s why I have found some of the best insights into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in works of fiction such as Joe Sacco’s startling, disorienting and wonderful graphic novel Palestine.

To be sure, I’ve read plenty of nonfiction as well, from Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid and Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree, but often it was only when I read works of fiction, such as Almost Dead by Assaf Gavron, that any the information I received from nonfiction works metamorphosed into knowledge, or at least the closest thing I can claim to have of knowledge, given that I’ve never set foot anywhere in Israel.

I’m not going to share my opinions on that conflict; this isn’t a political blog and, in any case, in my view any review that allows political bias to influence an assessment of a work of fiction is not to be trusted.

I will, however, disclose that I have had a fascination and admiration for Middle Eastern culture since I was little girl, long before it became distilled down to media buzzwords and conflated with the Muslim religion.

Which is why I saved this book from a friend’s culling pile.

I forgot about it for years until, looking for a quick read prior to my first travel vacation in five years, I found it again on the wrong bookshelf, the one I reserve for “stand alone” mysteries. And I am so glad I did.

First, a reader should understand that the protagonist, Omar Yussef, is a Christian in modern-ish Bethleham (presumably, this around the mid-to-late 1990s), which has become increasingly hostile to Christians.

Yussef is old enough to recall his father’s friendships with Muslims and Jews, and even to have a few Muslim friends of his own, but cynical enough to recognize the Martyrs Brigade for the strong-arm gang of thugs it is, even as it shrouds itself in the Palestinian flag and resistance movement.

His faith is not the only thing that sets Omar Yussef apart, however. Also compelling is the way he internalized what his father told him when the family was forced from their home by Israeli soldiers. Unlike the other refugees, Omar’s father didn’t expect to return. Which isn’t to say the eviction didn’t touch the Yussef family; his mother was so spiritually traumatized and chronically homesick she never settles into Bethlehem and struggled with severe depression for the rest of her life.

But Omar is no martyr to be pitied; indeed he is human to a degree that one rarely finds in fiction protagonists. A recovering alcoholic who squandered much of his youth in the bottle, Omar Yussef has been essentially demoted from teaching history at a respectable school to United Nations Palestinian refugee camp girls’ school. Still, he retains a dignity and honesty in his teaching and takes true pride in helping to form students' minds. 

Omar’s thoughtful, if politically tone-deaf, refusal to allow his students to give into blind hatred and propaganda make him unsurprisingly unpopular with many of his students’ parents and his American boss. The mischievous sense of humor with which he handles this situation is one of several unexpected delights within the book. 

Omar’s drinking has taken a toll on his body, which is aging prematurely, a rather nice change from the typically vigorous, indestructible protagonists so many mystery novels have.

In addition to a complex, rather unlikely hero, Matt Rees also humanizes the ambivalence, weariness, frustration and even hope of everyday people attempting to live ordinary, everyday lives in the midst of a conflict with global repercussions.

Rees shows us families cowering from Israeli tracers and bulldozers that destroy roads in the middle of the night but he also shows, rather mercilessly, the degree to which even Palestinians are not united amongst themselves and their own culpability in perpetuating half of the endless cycle of hate.

The mystery at the heart of this novel, with its mix of foregone conclusions, hope, cynicism and the never ending capacity of our fellow humans to surprise and disappoint us, lives up to complex and absorbing backdrop.

Omar’s motives are messy and a bit selfish – one of his brightest former students has been falsely accused of being an Israeli collaborator and helping Shin Bet to assassinate a resistance leader (or terrorist, depending on your perspective) and Reese pulls no punches in its inevitably bloody conclusion – of the many things this novel is, wish fulfillment it is not. Omar sincerely wants justice but in his core is desperate that one of the best examples of his legacy is not senselessly wrongfully destroyed.

It all makes for surprisingly quick and thought-provoking reading. It is easy to see why Rees was an award-winning foreign correspondent for The Scotsman and Newsweek.

As readers, we can be thankful for that. As people who hope for peace, we can only sigh and accept the truth as it stands.

[1] In no way am I suggesting that reading fiction is an adequate substitution for educating oneself. That is an entirely different process and, by definition, would include credible sources such as newspapers of record, original source notes and transcripts, peer-reviewed academic journal articles and the like at the very least.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Justice Hall by Laurie R. King (A Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mystery)

As much as possible, I try to offer fairly objective reviews for this blog.

True, a review is by definition subjective, but what I mean is that I make a conscious effort to focus on a book's writing and narrative style, how well the author folds research into the story (or how well-researched a novel is), setting, the development of characters over time, etc. The more “technical” aspects, I suppose.

It also means I try to keep knee-jerk opinions to a minimum and examine why I like or dislike something. I’m well aware that (especially when it comes to Doyle's Sherlock Holmes or Robert Louis Stevenson or a few other of my sacred cow authors) I can be a harsh, unforgiving, nitpicky, stick-in-the-mud puritanical pedant. 

Hard to believe, I know, but I do in fact try to reign that in.

That said, sometimes I’m just going to enjoy a book precisely because of certain settings, plot elements, time periods or other literary elements. Much to my surprise, Justice Hall is one of those of books.

As I’ve explained in another post, The Moor nearly made me give up this series altogether. O Jerusalem, however, played right into my lifelong love of MiddleEastern culture. [1] So to say King is becoming a bit of a hit-or-miss author for me is an understatement.

Enter Justice Hall, a book that combines two of my favorite Middle Eastern characters from the series with my all-time favorite mystery setting, a grand English manor. Upon first glance, it's not exactly a setting portmanteau I'd think would work, but King manages to make the two diametrically opposed worlds and the tension between them play together wonderfully. It’s a neat trick, and I can’t help but mentally tip my hat to author Laurie R. King for pulling it off.

The plot has all the elements needed to make it a fun, albeit a tad predictable, read for the mystery lover. Secret passages, a traditional English hunt, a huge, grand gala, a war-torn love story, family secrets. Like a traditional dish of comfort food untouched by the gluten free movement that uses real butter, King has crafted a shamelessly indulgent (and satisfying) piece of genre fiction.

There is a panoply of interesting, diverse characters, a well-plotted, complex mystery and several other artfully constructed settings besides Justice Hall as well. I found some of family genealogy aspects yawn-inducing but I know plenty of people simply love that kind of thing. And, in all fairness, it is the focal point upon which the plot turns.

Another compelling element of this installment is how King handles the time period. The struggle of an upper-class society attempting to find its footing in the turbulent wake of social changes brought by World War I is not a focal point of the book but is adequately explored through telling details such as the preparations for a huge party and the more casual dress and demeanor of houseguests. (I tried not to think this installment was not a mercenary attempt by King to capitalize on the Downton Abbey craze).

One aspect of this installment, one that I can’t help but wonder if it contributed to my deep enjoyment of this book, is that Sherlock himself is largely absent for a large part of it.

I have commented before on how unnecessary and pointless I find Mary and Sherlock’s marriage to be. In addition to being fairly far-fetched (and I say this as a woman whose husband is 10 years older than her), it is poorly handled and simply doesn’t do anything to further any of the stories or the characters.

Improbably in this installment, for example, Mary has to be reminded at one point that Sherlock, not being as young as he used to be, may take longer to recover from injuries. Again, as woman with an older husband (I am 34, my husband is 45), believe me – you can’t be in an intimate marital relationship and not pick up on something like that, let alone forget it. I don’t care how fit or healthy Sherlock is; a 20-year-old young man is simply not that easily confused with a man in his forties.

In addition, the relationship is extraordinarily cold and passionless anyway, which means when it does come up it gets in the way.

Russell and Holmes’ relationship feels like an intimate friendship between a girl and a mentor; why not just let it be that? I’m not looking for a romance novel and don’t need any bodice ripping, but for a young woman who is so willing to dive into life-threatening adventures the notion that she is essentially asexual is discordant.

We expect that from Holmes, of course, but for me Mary’s haughty, cold-fish nature only exacerbates the grating Mary Sue aspect of her character (speaking of the Mary Sue tendency, she has an absolutely eye-roll inducing part to play in an otherwise excellently done traditional English hunt).

At this point, I wish Mary would discover she’s a lesbian and fall passionately in love with a woman, or even another, younger man, or at least admit her marriage with Holmes is merely one of convenience so they can stay in the same hotel room or whatever when need be. It is the only thing that demotes these books from a fairly well-done pastiche to borderline adolescent wish fulfillment fan fiction. 

[1] My obsession and love of the Middle East began after reading a special edition of National Geographic from my grandfather. (Oh how I loved his bi-yearly deliveries of that heavy stack of glossy, wonder-filled pages!) 

Specifically, a special edition on the disappearing traditions of the Middle East. I think I was in third or fourth grade, possibly younger. There was one particular photo of a lone, robed Pashtun chief, robes billowing, walking away from the camera amidst gaping-mouthed modern tourists on a paved road that I will never forget. But it was the sidebars that got me – the folklore, the beautiful script I couldn’t read, the explosive colored mountains of spices, intriguing stories of women with "faces like the moon" and treasure that was likely to be coffee or spices as jewels...I was determined to travel the Middle East as a nomadic adventurer when I grew up. 

Obviously, that is a dream deferred for a litany of reasons, but with every report of ISIS destroying Syrian artifacts or other Middle Eastern treasures, my heart simply breaks. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Right Attitude to Rain (An Isabel Dalhousie mystery)

This installment breaks my cardinal rule of no spoilers. It is the first, and hopefully the last, time I will ever have to do that in order to adequately explain part of the reasoning behind my review. I have warned when the spoiler is coming and made the text of it white in an attempt to not ruin the book for a cursory reader. 

The Isabel Dalhousie books by Alexander McCall Smith, are my go-to when I need a proper cozy. The serene life of an independently wealthy, cultured Scottish philosopher and her internal musings as she attempts to lead a philosophically moral life (or justify her nosiness) is perfect for when the world seems just a bit too cruel, unforgiving, hostile, garish and uncivilized, as it certainly did last week.

Given that, and the fact that this particular installment resolves a fairly major character plot arc in the way I was hoping, this should've been one of my favorite installments.

And yet, it was my least favorite and left me feeling vaguely frustrated and unsatisfied.

Part of the reason, I suppose, is that Alexander McCall Smith was still trying to cram a mystery into a world in which the characters' lives have simply transcended that genre (as has also happened, for example, with Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series). I don't mind reading future installments as novels, but the purported mystery not only wasn't but didn't make any real type of appearance until the last third of the book! Something about that just feels lazy to me.

Secondly, a subplot that was introduced as a rather major story arc was abandoned entirely and then wrapped up abruptly in a rather unlikely way towards the end of book in a rather shabby way.

Finally,the big twist ending surprise was such a predictable letdown.

[SPOILER FOLLOWS -- Out of sheer necessity, I assure you. I hate reveiws that give spoilers and as a general rule never do, but there is no other way to further explain my feelings about this book.] 

<spoiler> Here you have Isabel Dalhousie, an independent, intelligent 42-year-old woman with a 24-year-old, handsome, "gentle" man who is in love with her. She finds the strength and courage to pursue him and get her man, finding love again. Fantastic! How empowering and refreshing to see a character that isn't sexually dead after thirty! 

And what does McCall Smith do? He impregnates her. Because of course the only thing "missing" from her life has to be a baby, right? Some of my bitterness here is personal, I freely admit that. I'm happily childfree at 35 and one of the reasons I loved Isabel was that it was awesome to have a heroine whose life didn't revolve around a husband and children and the pursuit thereof. 

I'm sure being older and having a child before Cat, her younger niece, will present complications. And a baby is not going to fit well into Isabel's well-ordered, quiet and serene life, surely. But quite frankly, my real life is already surrounded by and inundated with mothers, so it's with no little disappointment I find Isabel is now going to be All About Being A Mom All The Time. </spoiler>

So, I suppose I'm being a curmudgeon about a character's evolution. But it honestly didn't feel natural for either character and feels a bit like a calculated demographics grab, quite frankly. I'll read the next installment to see where it goes, but I have to be honest: I won't be surprised if it's time for Isabel and I to, unfortunately, part ways.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Jane and Cantebury Tale by Stephanie Barron (A Jane Austen mystery)

I have to be careful when reviewing installments in this series. I’d be lying if I said ever since a major development involving a certain major character occurred, the books simply haven’t been the same.

Don’t get me wrong – Stephanie Barron’s command of the Austen’s syntax and narrative style, not to mention her ability to plausibly tie every mystery into where Austen is at the time, both in terms of her life and geographically, continues to be nothing short of incredible.

That said, this installment was oddly easy to figure out. Admittedly, this could be simply because I primarily read quite a few historical fiction mysteries (hence this blog), particularly character series. But I’ve always counted on Barron for her ability to genuinely stump and surprise.

Barron’s plots, like Austen’s, are generally subtle without being opaque. The puzzle in Jane Austen mysteries is usually pieced together by weaving together the threads of different characters, specifically a stutter here, an unexplained absence there, strange behavior or a tiny inconsistency in aspect or dress.

To be sure, there is some of that in this book. But one of the main events – the delivery of a sachet of seeds to a bride on the eve of her second wedding – fizzles out a bit and was rather disappointing. I suppose it could have been a peacock feather meant to distract, but all the same, it was still something of a letdown.

Likewise, one of the characters, a sketchy, world-traveled sailor, is marvelously compelling. Austen and her brother’s visit to that character in gaol is Barron at her best. But here, too, the final reveal was not very surprising and rather anticlimactic.

Again, I have to be careful here. I may simply be getting over the series; I wasn’t a huge fan of the last installment, either. I’ll admit that for about six months now my tastes have leaned towards more contemporary mystery series. But normally I when I read a Jane Austen mystery it is an elegant experience during which the reader is given plenty of time and room to savor character development. Though the events are rarely hurried, the undercurrent thread of suspense is always taut. This installment, though not unenjoyable, simply didn’t seem as good as the others. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

A Death in the Small Hours by Charles Finch (A Charles Lenox mystery)

Though some might say the book should end once the mystery is solved, I for one was happily relieved to witness several key events that serve as subplots in A Death in the Small Hours, Charles Finch’s sixth installment of his wonderful Charles Lenox mysteries.

The deft and artful way in which Finch drops the reader into a pleasant or interesting situation makes one feel a bit like they are strolling in an impressionist painting. The setting is slightly idealized (though still well-researched), with an emphasis on beauty and mood. He writes with a painter’s sense of hue, including just enough to detail to throw the entire image into sharp relief. (I suspect this is especially true for readers such as myself who have not had the fortune to actually travel to England, despite spending thousands of literary hours there, both in the past and present.)

For example, much of this book takes place at Everley, where Lenox’s uncle (technically cousin, but that’s not really the relationship the two have) tends beautiful surrounding gardens and sits as magistrate and de facto squire to the village of Plumbley. As the Lenox family rides up to the estate, a place of many happy memories for Charles, we are told that Everley is “had none of the grandeur of a palace, or of the great medieval castles—it was only two stories—yet it had a beauty all its own” (p. 35, 2012 Minotaur Books U.S. paperback).

The subsequent description has just enough detail to make it a firm setting in the reader’s mind– we are told of an old wing built in 1220 and a “more recent” Queen Anne-period hall, of a pond and “small gardens with gravel paths, not grand but perfect in their beauty” (Ibid.)

Yet the description simultaneously lacks just enough detail to allow Everley to become a place of the reader’s imagination – in my opinion, best balance a writer can strike.
But that is nothing new from Finch. He has remained remarkable in his ability to create atmosphere and strike a consistent tone without getting stagnant. Indeed, this book installment contains quite a few plot twists, one of which was totally unexpected. And, for those who enjoy just a bit more action and derring-do, you’ll find this installment has plenty of both.

Still, it is still almost what I would call a cozy, though there is some physical action and, of course, a tragic and senseless murder. The murder comes on the heels of vandalism that has recently been occurring in Pemberley. At first, Lenox believes them to be the antics of restless schoolboys but the cryptic, sinister messages that accompany the destruction preclude school boy antics. Naturally, the murder draws both Lenox and the reader into the main plot, even though poor Lenox initially goes to the country to complete a career-making Parliamentary task.

If there can be said to be a major flaw with this installment, it is that perhaps Finch is too enamored with his own characters. But, who can blame him? They’re wonderful. But then again, that’s a bit of the rub, too. One wants to gets to know them more but Finch, and by extension Lenox, who are nothing if not gentlemen, retain a respectful distance that keeps some of the more minor characters at bit at arm’s length. But perhaps I’m just a pushy, nosy American.

All in all, while I wouldn’t call this the best installment of the series, I would say it’s a solid entry into what continues to be a great series. This is a relief given certain major character developments that had me worried the series would inevitably devolve into something else. But existing fans will enjoy it, I’m sure, and those who are new to the series will find it a perfectly good introduction to most of the main characters.