The time is 1874, the place is Victorian England, and the story is that of a former detective who now is a Member of Parliament. He is married and very happy to be a new father. As it goes in Parliament, a new member is called upon to deliver a very important speech at the beginning of the new session. Everyone in the political world knows that Charles Knox is exceedingly nervous, but honored to give a memorable speech.
"Charles Finch has laid out a sterling conundrum in A DEATH IN THE SMALL HOURS. His characters are finely limned, the narrative moves apace, and his deft hand at creating drama and suspense comes through on almost every page."
Charles seeks peace and quiet at the home of his Uncle Frederick Ponsonby, in Plumbley, which is located in Somerset. His wife and the baby’s nursemaid, Miss Taylor, make their way to the family manse where they are greeted like royalty. Frederick sees to it that the small family has everything they need and makes himself available to Charles if he needs help with his writing. As conversations are had, Knox finds out that a rash of crimes have been taking place in the tiny town: store windows have been broken, the picture of a black dog appears, and the church door is painted with Roman numerals. One of the most interesting questions in the narrative is not only who is doing this, but even more importantly, why.
Readers have already learned that Charles often daydreams of the time he spent as the most important detective in London. And he wonders if his decision to go into politics was the correct one. Now, Lord John Dallington is “the premier private investigator in London.” He was Knox’s protégé in the past and stepped into Charles’s shoes with a perfect fit. Nevertheless, he still seeks his mentor’s advice on cases that stump him. This little taste of his former world, in which he was an expert at solving crimes, makes Charles’s blood run hot. As much as he likes politics, “but for all his pleasure in the long debates and the hushed hallway conversations of his present life, Lenox had never quite felt as viscerally engaged with Parliament as he had with crime.” But his wife, Lady Jane, was thrilled that he gave up what she considered the dangers of detecting and crime solving.
The crimes and misdemeanors taking place in Plumbley give Charles an excuse to put off writing his speech and helping Lord Dallington, who shows up on the Somerset doorstep, to solve the mysteries no one else has a clue about. All of a sudden, murder raises its ugly head and men are falling like trees being cut down. “Wells, Fripp, Weston, the church doors. What connected them?” Charles Knox is determined to find out and to solve the mystery overshadowing the little town of Plumbley.
Charles Finch has laid out a sterling conundrum in A DEATH IN THE SMALL HOURS. His characters are finely limned, the narrative moves apace, and his deft hand at creating drama and suspense comes through on almost every page.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on November 21, 2012