Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mystery Book Review: The September Society by Charles Finch

Mysterious Reviews, mysteries reviewed by the Hidden Staircase Mystery Books, is publishing a new review of The September Society by Charles Finch. For our blog readers, we are printing it first here in advance of its publication on our website.

The September Society by Charles Finch

by
A Charles Lenox Mystery

St. Martin's Minotaur (Trade Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0-312-56494-5 (0312564945)
ISBN-13: 978-0-312-56494-0 (9780312564940)
Publication Date: July 2009
List Price: $13.99

Review: Private detective Charles Lenox is hired to search for a missing student at his alma mater, Oxford, in The September Society, the second mystery in this series by Charles Finch.

The young man is George Payson, son of Lady Annabelle Payson, the widow of Captain James Payson who died during the Anglo-Sikh wars twenty years earlier. When Lenox visits Payson's rooms in Oxford, he finds an unusual assortment of items, the most extraordinary of which is a dead cat, stabbed with a letter opener, under which is found a note with cryptic writing. Other oddities include a neat line of ask under a window, a pulpy fried tomato on the rug, and a card identifying The September Society on the front, and a pink and black X on the back. Lenox begins his investigation by locating Payson's friends, but one of them has also gone missing. The police eventually recover a body from the local woods that, though badly decomposed, is identified as Payson. Lenox, unable to prevent Payson's murder, is determined to find out who killed him and why.

The September Society is exceptionally well written, with solid characters and a strong sense of time and place. The plot proceeds at a moderate, methodical pace, much like Lenox himself. He views his profession pragmatically, as he tells a potential colleague interested in working for him: "[It] is, in my mind at least, both one of the least respected professions among our kind of people and one of the most important and noble in its purpose. If you are a detective and a gentleman, expect to be unheralded -- misunderstood except by your friends, and even by them sometimes -- looked on as somewhat odd, if harmless. It will help that you have a position and money, as it has helped me, but it won't save you from a certain, rather hard to bear kind of disrepute." His case is more of a puzzle than anything else, Payson having left what are certainly clues as to why he disappeared, and after his body is found, why he was murdered. Though Lenox makes a wrong turn here and there (he remarks at one point he was "as slow as the milk train" to catch on), he eventually manages to piece the puzzle together, discovering a link between the death of Captain Payson in India and his son twenty years later in Oxford.

A bit slow in places, and probably about 50 pages too long, The September Society is nonetheless a very enjoyable mystery that has a quite engaging private detective participating in a most intriguing investigation.

Special thanks to St. Martin's Minotaur for providing a trade paperback edition of The September Society for this review.

Review Copyright © 2009 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved

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Synopsis (from the publisher): In the small hours of the morning one fall day in 1866, a frantic widow visits detective Charles Lenox. Lady Annabelle’s problem is simple: her beloved son, George, has vanished from his room at Oxford. When Lenox visits his alma mater to investigate he discovers a series of bizarre clues, including a murdered cat and a card cryptically referring to “The September Society.” Then, just as Lenox realizes that the case may be deeper than it appears, a student dies, the victim of foul play.

What could the September Society have to do with it? What specter, returned from the past, is haunting gentle Oxford? Lenox, with the support of his devoted friends in London’s upper crust, must race to discover the truth before it comes searching for him, and dangerously close to home.

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