I've been bouncing around a bit - temporally and geographically - in recent weeks. After an aborted start, I did finally sink into the plush surroundings of Charles Finch's The September Society (Minotaur Books, 2008), featuring that posh but practical Victorian sleuth, Charles Lenox. This time, Finch takes us back and forth between the environs of Grosvenor Square and the university town of Lenox's youth, Oxford. Oh the names that are dropped - the Turf, the Bear, the Lamb and Flag; Lincoln, Queen's, Balliol; the Sheldonian, the Ashmolean, and of course the Bod(leian) - yet despite all of this Lenox manages to remain a reasonably accesible man of his time, largely due to his liberal politics. His love of England, Queen, and Empire are not enough to blind him to egregious injustices perpetrated by the villains at the heart of this story (missing students, hysterical mothers, nefarious societies), so Finch neatly succeeds in avoiding most of the icky stuff of the height of British empire and gives us Anglophiles what we want. Which is a loyal retainer, an intellectual puzzle, and a cup of tea on a rainy day:
"'Has she said why she's come, Graham?'
'No, sir. Though I might venture to say that her ladyship seems agitated,'
'Very well,' Lenox said with a sigh. 'It's a bit of a bother. Do giver her some tea, though, won't you? And I'd like a cup myself. I'll be down as soon as I can.'
After the butler left, Lenox went to the west window of his bedroom, which stretched from his knees to the ceiling. Outside there was a dense fog, thought he could make out a few figures on Hampden Lane, heads bowed, on late errands of mercy and menace. The sound of wet leaves dropping from the trees made its way to him. And a small smile crept onto his face. A cup of tea, and who knew what after that? Another case in play, and all the better that it came at this hour. These late ones were often the most interesting." (p. 20)
Suffice it to say that a similarly small smile of satisfaction creeps across this reader's face when settling in here, especially if it is cold and rainy out.
All that said, there really isn't anything terribly gripping about this particular story. One might even say that it drags a wee bit, until the very end. Perhaps it is the slower pace of late 19th c. investigation, or Lenox's endless stoic pining over his ladylove, or maybe just the cushy surroundings that cause one to nap instead of reading on.