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by Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, November 2013
294 pages
ISBN: 1250011612

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The year is 1875. AN OLD BETRAYAL is set in London, England, where the question always is, did the butler do it?

Graham is no longer Charles Lenox's butler in this, the seventh chronicle of Charles Lenox. Ever since Charles stood for MP and won the seat at Stirrington, he has taken Graham to be his secretary. As the best butler does much to create the gentleman, so the secretary helps create the successful MP. Graham, the secretary, holds a lot of power for someone not born to it. The question is, does he want more than is his?

Meanwhile, Charles's once-partner, investigator Lord John Dallington has received a strange letter, apparently from someone in distress. The writer of the letter asks that an investigator meet the writer at a restaurant near Charing Cross. The investigators will be able to tell who the writer is because he will be carrying an umbrella. When Lenox goes to the restaurant, he discovers, too late, that the writer is a her. She flees the restaurant when a mysterious sandy-haired man approaches her.

As Charles begins his investigation of the unknown woman and her pursuer, he uses Holmesian ratiocination to discover their names - and then he uses even more ratiocination to find that those are not their names at all. Later, of course, a corpse turns up, along with a grieving sister - who is not all she appears to be, either.

At home, his wife, Lady Jane Lenox, is comforting her cousin, Victoria, whose husband has been seen in the park with Polly Buchanan, a well-known hussy. Polly and Victoria's husband Dr. McConnell each have their secrets, but they are not the secrets you may think they are, Dear Reader. In fact, at the root of everything, is Bonny Prince Charlie.

Finch's novel is fun to read. Not only do Queen Victoria, Benjamin Disraeli, and William Gladstone make appearances, but Finch seems both knowing and tongue-in-cheek as he takes us in Sherlock Holmes's footsteps. Identification of the criminal turns on an accented speech, a cut of clothing, and a hunch about a train conductor. However, in a Conan Doyle mystery, Holmes and Watson drive inexorably to the conclusion of the mystery. Finch's detectives are not bumblers, but they are constructed in postmodern times, where nothing is as it seems. Not once, not twice, but multiple times, someone identified as one person is in fact another. In form, the novel resembles a set of Russian Matryoska: each outer façade peels off to reveal another, then another. At the last, in the center, is the truth. Happy reading.

§ Cathy Downs, Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, is also a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, December 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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