A Burial at Sea Hardcover – Nov 8 2011
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
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.
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
In short, Lenox doesn't do much, doesn't interact with interesting characters or in any depth and the characters and milieu that have given the series its previous charm are absent.
I'm surprised that reviews here generally have been so generous. I'm glad that others enjoyed this book, I didn't.
"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.