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A Burial at Sea [Hardcover]

Charles Finch
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

Nov. 8 2011 Charles Lenox Mysteries (Book 5)

 “Agatha Christie meets Patrick O’Brian in Finch’s accomplished fifth whodunit set in Victorian England (after 2010’s A Stranger in Mayfair), the best in the series to date.”

—Starred Review, Publisher’s Weekly 9/12/2011

 

Charles Lenox, Member of Parliament, sets sail on a clandestine mission for the government.  When an officer is savagely murdered, however, Lenox is drawn toward his old profession, determined to capture another killer.

1873 is a perilous time in the relationship between France and England.  When a string of English spies is found dead on French soil, the threat of all-out war prompts government officials to ask Charles Lenox to visit the newly-dug Suez Canal on a secret mission.

Once he is on board the Lucy, however, Lenox finds himself using not his new skills of diplomacy but his old ones: the ship’s second lieutenant is found dead on the voyage’s first night, his body cruelly abused. The ship’s captain begs the temporarily retired detective to join in the hunt for a criminal.  Lenox finds the trail, but in the claustrophobic atmosphere on board, where nobody can come or go and everyone is a suspect, he has to race against the next crime—and also hope he won’t be the victim.

At once a compulsive murder mystery, a spy story, and an intimate and joyful journey with the Victorian navy, this book shows that no matter how far Lenox strays from his old life, it will always come back to find him.


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Review

"A rousing nautical adventure ... Finch’s descriptions of life at sea are so fascinating it’s a shame Lenox must bring this case to an end."
-- The New York Times
 
"Agatha Christie meets Patrick O’Brian in Finch’s accomplished fifth whodunit set in Victorian England ... the best in the series to date."
-- Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
 
"An agreeable spin on the classic locked-room mystery yarn; it’s Murder on the Orient Express as reimagined by Patrick O’Brian."
-- Daniel Stashower, AARP
 
"The murder mystery that Finch weaves keeps readers guessing...an intriguing read on several levels."
-- The Seattle Times

About the Author

Charles Finch is a graduate of Yale and Oxford. He is the author of the Charles Lenox mysteries, including The Fleet Street Murders, The September Society and A Stranger in Mayfair. His first novel, A Beautiful Blue Death, was nominated for an Agatha Award and was named one of Library Journal’s Best Books of 2007, one of only five mystery novels on the list. He lives in Oxford, England.

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4.0 out of 5 stars A good read but not the best of the series Jan. 7 2012
By L. J. Roberts TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
First Sentence: He gazed out at the sunfall from an open second-floor window, breathing deeply of the cool salt air, and felt it was the first calm moment he had known in days.

Charles Lenox's life has undergone significant changes. He is recently married, is about to become a father, has given up investigation and is a Member of Parliament. Yet the newly-dug Suez Canal has strained relations between England and France has Charles boarding ship on a secret mission. However, when a brutal murder occurs aboard ship, it is Charles' old skills which must be applied to finding the killer.

It is the characters which draw me back to this series, time after time. Charles is an investigator, not of bravado and daring acts, but of intelligence, determination, and decency. There is a particularly delightful scene of his reaction to a progressive woman he meets in Egypt, signaling the changes times in social culture. Lady Jane, although in a cameo role here, is a character one can't help but love. It was nice to learn the background of their relationship. Yet it is Lenox's ship steward, the ever-eating, ever efficient McEwan, who almost steals the story. One does hope he'll show up in future books.

Finch paints a fascinating picture of live aboard ship; the structure and the disparity of ship-life between the officers and the men;it makes one thinks of today's news. The descriptions of the food and meals were hunger-making. I also appreciated learning the history of the Suez Canal and all the historical information seamlessly woven into the story. The ship's encounter with an American warship was wonderfully done and very interesting.

The plot, however, did suffer a bit.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  99 reviews
59 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Victorian mystery with a watery twist Sept. 25 2011
By Patto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I've read all the Charles Lenox novels, and they continue to be fresh and surprising. This one, fifth in the series, has all the charm of a sea adventure and a Victorian mystery.

In earlier books Lenox was an aristocratic amateur detective. Now at age forty-two, he's a solid Member of Parliament on a sensitive mission to Egypt. He has many reasons to stay alive - a beloved pregnant wife and a promising career among them - but staying alive won't be easy for Lenox in the next two months.

Lenox sails on the Lucy, a naval vessel that seems particularly happy and efficient. The brutal murder of an amiable young officer puts an end to this idyllic picture.

Lenox starts an investigation at the captain's request. His detecting skills are rusty, but he still feels the thrill of the hunt. The ship, being an isolated world unto itself, neatly contains all his suspects. Unfortunately there are hundreds of seamen and dozens of officers on board, none of them the least bit suspicious. Read on to become thoroughly perplexed along with Lenox!

There are several wonderful characters. My favorite is McEwan, the steward who becomes Lenox's personal servant on the ship. An enormous fellow constantly munching on something, McEwan is terribly concerned to keep Lenox lavishly fed and awash in tea and alcohol.

The plot has multiple climaxes - and one rousing scene that brought tears to my eyes. I never for a moment guessed the identity of the murderer. Charles Finch is good at keeping the reader guessing. He also shows flashes of a very Victorian sense of humor.

You can read this novel with pleasure independent of the series. But I'd suggest reading all the books in order: A Beautiful Blue Death, The September Society, The Fleet Street Murders, A Stranger in Mayfair and finally, perhaps most enjoyably, A Burial at Sea.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Can't decide what to think Feb. 10 2012
By Jane Doe - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have read all the books in the Charles Lenox Mysteries series and have thoroughly enjoyed them. This most recent book is a bit of a departure from the others, in that it takes place on the high seas, as Charles travels to Egypt on behalf of his country and at his brother's request.

While I found the setting to be interesting, the mystery itself was not very compelling and I found the secondary story (his mission in Egypt) somewhat distracting. Charles's steward, McEwan, was very engaging and I agree with a previous reviewer that he very nearly stole the show, but the other characters were not that appealing.

All in all, while I enjoyed the book and I am already looking forward to the next one, it didn't seem like it was up to the standards of the others and I didn't find myself staying up late at night to read "one more chapter". Maybe it was the setting (I'm a landlubber through and through) or it could be the absence of Jane, his wife, who always offers perspective and objectivity and his brother who is always supportive and encouraging. In Burial at Sea, Charles seems out of his element and somewhat incomplete.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Undoubtedly the ultimate of the Lenox series Nov. 11 2011
By Bookreporter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In New York-born Charles Finch's fifth historical whodunit (after A STRANGER IN MAYFAIR), former detective and now freshman member of Parliament Charles Lenox is dispatched in 1873 on a covert mission to France's newly opened Suez Canal, aboard HMS Lucy. Several British spies have been killed on French soil, war seems imminent, and control of the canal is in Queen Victoria's best interest. Lenox is called away from his later-in-life wife, Lady Jane Grey, who now expects their first child.

On the first night out, Lieutenant Thomas St. James Halifax is murdered, "cut open straight down the middle from his throat to his stomach." Captain Jacob Martin summons Lenox to investigate, waking him not only from sleep but from the dormant desire to return to sleuthing. Astoundingly obvious clues that implicate various officers found at and in the body vanish from Lenox's cabin. Even his portly steward, "a Scot called McEwan," falls under suspicion. Clues abound, and there is a virtual sea of red herrings.

Unraveling a murder mystery in the claustrophobic confines of a small ship is a throwback to Agatha Christie's MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, here on a British naval vessel instead of a luxury train. "The problem was the preponderance of suspects," with 220 aboard. Complicating matters is "that most dreaded movement...mutiny." Lenox finds a bloody smudge on a note in his cabin, effectively stating The Lucy is ours. "Then there was the widespread illiteracy of the sailors. [F]ew sailors on the ship can write or read." Lenox shifts his suspicion from crew to officers, not excluding Captain Martin. But Martin has a dead-on alibi.

Predictably, Lenox faces death from those who would commit murder and mutiny. At age 42, he's no longer in tip-top shape, and climbing the mizzenmast to investigate makes him aware of his age. With all the goings-on aboard the Lucy, Lenox's original mission in Port Said, Egypt, becomes anticlimactic, but may be a clever ploy of the author for sequels that will keep Lenox embroiled in mysteries set in exotic locations.

According to Finch, this richly researched education of Victorian maritime tradition "required perhaps more research than the previous four Lenox books combined." He brilliantly sets up a slew of potential recurring characters, including nephew Teddy, son of his Parliamentary brother Sir Edmund and consort to Prime Minister Gladstone.

Undoubtedly the ultimate of the Lenox series, this surefire "best sailor" docked on my Top Ten list for 2011.

Reviewed by L. Dean Murphy
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maybe a little too ambitious... Oct. 4 2011
By Jill Meyer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Charles Finch - according to his Amazon bio - was born in 1980 and is 31 years old. I point that out first in my review because he has published five Charles Lenox mysteries. This seems a prodigious output of good books by an author so young. He's to be congratulated.

"A Burial at Sea" is Finch's latest book and is a combination murder mystery and life-at-sea novel, set in 1873. Both aspects blend most of the time, making the various crimes committed and solved somewhat at a variance with each other. Finch's main character, Charles Lenox, MP, is a recent groom and soon-to-be-father. He's asked to go on a delicate diplomatic mission by his brother to Egypt to investigate a string of murders of British secret agents in the area and in other parts of the world. The Brits think the French are involved and they probably are. Lenox, previously an investigator, takes the job, though he's torn emotionally about leaving his newly pregnant wife back in London.

The voyage on the "Lucy" a British ship fitted out to take Lenox to Egypt is a fine ship. However, two murders on board mar the journey for everyone on board - particularly those who were sliced-and-diced to death - and Lenox uses the time of the three week journey to find the murderer. Then, when the "Lucy" arrives in Egypt, the diplomatic part of the story swings into action.

I'm giving "Burial" four stars instead of five because, while I think the writing is excellent - and up to the two previous "Lenox" books I've read - the two stories don't quite blend together. Maybe Charles Finch became a little too ambitious in his efforts on his latest book. In any case, he's written a good mystery novel that will be enjoyed, particularly by the readers of his previous books in the Lenox series.
22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mystery series rich in historical information and trivia but for me the protagonist's personality lacks punch. Oct. 5 2011
By OLT - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
I read Finch's first Charles Lenox mystery A Beautiful Blue Death (Charles Lenox Mysteries) in 2008 and enjoyed it but it was such a mild enjoyment that I never sought out the next 3 books in the series. However, since this 5th and latest in the series was available on Vine, I decided to try him again. My original impression still holds.

The author does an excellent job of transporting us to Victorian England, with lots of mundane details about daily life and also bigger-picture historical backdrop information. His books are informative and interesting in this respect. The main drawback to my full appreciation of the Charles Lenox series is Lenox himself. For me, he's too mild, almost colorless and passionless and lacking personality. His longtime friend Lady Jane Grey, to whom he is now married, is as gentle and bland as he is. I find myself enjoying the mystery and history of each book, but the detective himself is uninspiring.

This particular mystery takes place mostly at sea on the way to Egypt, where Lenox is being sent on a diplomatic mission with a secret agenda. But just days into the voyage, one of the ship's officers is murdered rather brutally and Lenox is asked to find the murderer. The mystery holds the reader's interest, except for the distraction of so much eating and drinking, mostly of tea and toast, tea and biscuits, ham and butter, well, you get the idea. If one removed all references to the consumption of food and drinks in the 310-page book, it might be reduced to some 270 pages or less. Of course, by doing so, we wouldn't have the running comic relief of Lenox's steward McEwan, who is assigned to be his manservant during the voyage, a man for whom eating is the primary interest in life.

Some days after this murder, other complications arise. But eventually Lenox manages to take enough time out from his eating and drinking to solve the mystery, even endangering his own life in the process. From there it's on to Egypt to carry out his mission, a bit of an afterthought in the book, it seemed to me. However, all in all, it's a pleasant read and I might try #6 in the series whenever it is published.

I do have a little mystery about Lenox that I'd love for someone to solve for me. In the first book of the series, which takes place in 1865, Lenox is described as "a man of perhaps 40". This new book takes place in 1873 and Lenox is now 42. Could someone please tell me how he does this? I'm aging rapidly and would love to slow down the process in the same way.
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