Skip to main content

An Extravagant Death: A Charles Lenox Mystery


An Extravagant Death: A Charles Lenox Mystery

The year is 1878. London’s most prominent detective, Charles Lenox, has just succeeded in solving one of England’s most scandalous crimes by uncovering shattering corruption in Scotland Yard.

Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is grateful but knows that the upcoming trial will explode in the world press, especially if Lenox presents his damning testimony in court. Disraeli feels that Lenox’s absence during the proceedings would be advantageous both to Parliament and to himself. So to express his gratitude, he offers Lenox knighthood. Flattered but unimpressed, Lenox politely declines. He then sweetens the pot with a month-long diplomatic voyage to America under Queen Victoria’s seal, thus assuring that Lenox will be beyond the reach of the press until the situation dies down.

"Long a fan of period mystery series, I found [AN EXTRAVAGANT DEATH] to be a witty and colorful tale well told, right down to the intriguing whodunit elements of the story."

Sir Charles Lenox reluctantly sets off, leaving behind his wife, Lady Jane, and their two young daughters until everything blows over. As he has never been to America, he is excited but also misses his loved ones. Upon arriving in New York, he is wined and dined by the prosperous Astor, Stuyvesant and Knickerbocker set. He is invited to fancy dinners in magnificent mansions brought by carriages complete with footmen. After all, he is an envoy of the Queen of England.

Lenox attends the opening of “the season,” an annual social event where the eligible coming-of-age debutantes are presented in elaborate balls to pronounce their availability for marriage. The dynastic young mogul they choose will secure their future, both socially and financially. Lenox is sought out as a trophy dinner guest, not only due to his knighthood, but because of the headlines created by solving the British scandal covered by the American press.

Tragically, the season’s most beautiful debutante is found dead on the beach next to one of the stately Newport mansions. It is first thought that she threw herself off a cliff, but the police suspect foul play. While on the train to Boston, Lenox receives a wire from William Stuyvesant Schermerhorn IV, one of Connecticut’s most notable scions. He has sent a coach to bring Lenox immediately to Newport. The police are convinced that they have a murder on their hands, and the chief suspect is Schermerhorn’s son. Lenox’s fame as England’s greatest detective follows him wherever he goes.

Charles Finch writes lavishly of the homes and fashionable dress of the Victorian era, along with the lush surroundings, customs and lifestyle of an America that is long gone. AN EXTRAVAGANT DEATH is the 14th Charles Lenox novel, but the first that I have read. Long a fan of period mystery series, I found it to be a witty and colorful tale well told, right down to the intriguing whodunit elements of the story.

Nothing pleases me more than to discover another gem of a mystery writer with a healthy backlist, so I cannot wait to delve into Finch’s treasure trove. We seem to have a long winter (and year) ahead of us, so excavating a stack of mysteries is a great way to deal with the solitude. One can only watch so many reruns on the telly.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on February 19, 2021

An Extravagant Death: A Charles Lenox Mystery
by Charles Finch