A Burial at Sea: A Mystery (Charles Lenox Series) by Charles Finch (Minotaur Books, $14.99, 336 pages)
British mysteries are often set in post-Word War I London or quaint villages (think Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series). Here’s a nice change of time and place to the open seas in 1873 aboard Her Majesty’s Ship the Lucy. Former detective and current junior Member of Parliament Charles Lenox has accepted an assignment to travel to Egypt in the hope of uncovering a traitor in the British Intelligence community. Relations between England and France are strained and war seems inevitable. During Lenox’s weeks-long voyage a murder takes place and he is the default person to identify the killer.
Just near the gun room was a small closet with a caged metal door and a large, impressive lock. It held the ship’s spirits, wine and brandy for the captain and the officers, rum for the men’s grog, as well as a bottle or two of harder alcoholic drinks. When ships were foundering or there was a mutiny afoot, sailors were occasionally known to break into it, an offense punishable by hanging.
While the story line is important, the portrait painted in words is the star of the book. Charles Finch has done a masterful job of bringing the reader into an era of strict class distinctions. The accuracy of the language of the late 19th Century Victorian Era adds to the immersion of the reader. Nautical expressions and sailing references firmly establish the scenes on the Lucy.
This experience is so far removed from the present day navy that it seems somewhat cozy. Finch’s narrator has a distinct masculine tone; however, there is ample kindness and appreciation expressed throughout the book which makes it appealing for all readers.
A review copy was provided by the publisher. “Agatha Christie meets Patrick O’Brien… the best in the series to date.” Publishers Weekly (starred review) on A Burial at Sea.