Literary, etc is an eclectic blog where we talk & review books, films, & whatever strikes our mood.
It’s always a treat to settle down with a Charles Finch novel and An Old Betrayal doesn’t disappoint. An Old Betrayal is the seventh book in the Charles Lenox series and if you haven’t read the series, you can delve right in since most books can be read as a standalone. Finch isn’t one to drown the reader in a character’s back story and therefore I do recommend you start from the beginning with A Beautiful Blue Death, but it’s not necessary.
Set in 1875, An Old Betrayal picks up a year after A Death in the Small Hours ends. Former gentleman detective turned Member of Parliament, Charles Lenox, finds himself busy in the House of Commons and as Junior Lord of the Treasury. When the opportunity arises to assist his former protégé, Lord John Dallington, Lenox can’t say no and begins to oversee the case himself. Unfortunately, Lenox finds his duties in Parliament limits the amount of time he’s able to devote and soon comes to realize his investigative skills are a bit rusty. Still he presses on with the investigation and little does he know, the case is about to become more complicated; impersonation and murder entwine along with a possible plot involving Queen Victoria. Lenox and Dallington also grapple with the arrival of a new detective agency looking to compete with Dallington.
It can be difficult for readers new to a series to pick up a book mid-series since most of the character development has occurred in the earlier books. By the third or fourth book, an author has a good grasp on the characters and won’t go into detail regarding who they are. Finch, however, continues to develop his characters. In the past, I’ve privately criticized Lady Jane and referred to her as, dull as ditch water but in An Old Betrayal we find our footing with Jane. There’s a particular scene where she shows us who she truly is and it was quite fun getting to know her all over again. Toto and McConnell make an appearance and while I still think it’s a bit too brief, we get new insight to Toto’s relationship with McConnell. I daresay, this is probably the first time readers will truly understand Toto’s feelings for McConnell and I’ve been critical of Toto in the past, but mostly due to her behavior regarding McConnell. That being said, I do worry about these two very much. Other well known characters make an appearance and Finch introduces us to several new ones. No doubt readers will relish getting to know them.
The writing is classic Finch with beautiful and rich descriptions. I did find An Old Betrayal to be filled with more humor when compared to the previous novels. Lenox’s humor is more apparent when he’s around his daughter. There’s a particular scene involving Sophia and Lenox makes an observation that she won’t be an apprenticed seamstress in the near future. Overall, I really enjoyed the personal touches Finch makes us take note of. As with previous novels, Finch interweaves historical facts with his narrative. Readers will walk away knowing the origin of the soup kitchen as well as the terms hogwash and magazine. We also get a bit of a history lesson involving the Jacobites and how the House of Hanover (which Queen Victoria was the last British monarch to descend from) came to be. Salic law dictates that no female could inherit the Kingdom of Hanover and its territories unless there were no male heirs. In the case of Victoria, her uncle Ernest Augustus inherited since he was the son of George III and Victoria was just his granddaughter.
What I really enjoyed about An Old Betrayal is that Finch makes us question the loyalty of old friends. Most fans of the Lenox series regard Lenox, McConnell, Jenkins, and company as dear friends. In real life, sometimes a friend’s action will leave us questioning their character, etc. I’m not going to go into detail regarding the two characters because I don’t want to spoil things, but will say this: you’ll be left surprised and disappointed. When things get resolved you’ll be angry for having an ounce of doubt. Finch makes you care about the fate of his characters and if the events involving two beloved characters made me feel as if a stake was going through my heart, I can’t imagine what will happen if Finch ever decides to kill off a character.
With regards to the mystery, it is a bit weak and connected to two subplots. Some might criticize the use of these subplots, but they are necessary and vital to the plot. Readers not familiar with Finch’s writing style may find this to be cumbersome. Finch isn’t the type of author to wrap up a mystery nicely and always goes beyond the solving of a case to provide the reader with additional information. I always have fun trying to solve the mystery alongside Lenox and in the past, he’s made me admit defeat. While I want to admit and gloat that I figured out, I can’t. I partially guessed the impersonation aspect since a few things didn’t sit well, but the reason behind the motive is where I failed. I also failed with regards to another character who I swore was involved, but alas Lenox had more faith in this person than I did.
Overall, Charles Finch’s An Old Betrayal is a highly enjoyable read. I always have fun traipsing through London with Lenox. It’s always a treat to read a book by an author who actually takes the time to reflect on the past and while we very much hold true to a vision of a particular past (not every ancestor lived in a grand mansion with servants about, some of us do descend from laborers), it’s nice to read a book by an author who actually takes the time to reflect on it. There’s a particular scene in which a member of the House of Commons complains about the traffic in London and I can’t help but chuckle. The poor dear would have an apoplexy with today’s traffic.
Readers of the series will be surprised by the ending and I’m looking forward to the new possibilities that will present themselves.