Victorian mystery series gets second of three planned prequels
"The Vanishing Man" by Charles Finch (Minotaur Books, 288 pages, in stores)
How does the world's first consulting detective get his start? I'm not talking about Sherlock Holmes here, but rather Charles Lenox, a character created by author Charles Finch in his critically acclaimed 2007 novel, "A Beautiful Blue Death."
After 10 novels following the gentleman sleuth's career, last year Finch came out with the first of a prequel trilogy, "The Woman in the Water," providing readers with an origin story for Lenox as he fights ridicule and scorn in 1850 to set up his own investigative effort. Bear in mind the first police force in London had come into being just two decades earlier, and police investigations still were more a matter of arresting anyone in the vicinity than doing actual detective work as we understand it today.
"The Vanishing Man," second in the prequel trilogy, picks up the story in 1853, after Lenox has gained grudging cooperation from Scotland Yard after helping solve two "perfect crimes," and appears to be well on his way to a career as a consulting detective.
Lenox is summoned to the home of the Duke of Dorset, where some scoundrel has stolen the painting of the duke's great-grandfather from his private study. The duke has mixed emotions about seeking this outsider's help — it involves a secret known to just three people, and sharing that secret with Lenox might ruin everything, but the duke has nowhere else to turn for help.
So what is this secret? I can't tell you — like Lenox, I have been sworn to secrecy. You'll have to read the book to find out.
But it involves what may be one of the most valuable documents in British history, the shooting death of a beloved servant, politics of the status-conscious class system of Victorian England, and a man who has a rare ability to remain unrecognized and unnoticed even when he is in full view of someone who is looking for him. Plus, there is a visit to Bedlam, the infamous insane asylum, as Lenox begins his studies of the criminally insane.
"The Vanishing Man" is a fun read that had me turning pages far into the night. Fans of Sherlock Holmes and Charles Dickens will find themselves right at home in this Victorian setting.
—Glen Seeber, The Oklahoman