THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY by Charles Finch
THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY is one of the early novels in the Charles Lenox historical mystery series, which is my new obsession. Imagine Victorian London through the eyes of an upper-class private detective, with great descriptions, 3-D characters and details out of a Dickens novel. As an added delight, there are sly references to iconic British authors like P.G. Wodehouse.
In short, the Charles Lenox mystery series is absorbing, authentic, and quite sophisticated.
Lenox is a bachelor in love with his London neighbor, Lady Jane, a wealthy widow whom he’s known since childhood. Asking for her hand in marriage requires courage, although Lenox is accustomed to not only solving gruesome crimes but the rigors of London society and the opinions of those who believe that an Oxford-educated man should do something more impressive with his talents. Be in Parliament, perhaps, like his older brother and many friends.
Independently wealthy, Lenox persists in his role as amateur detective. In THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY, a woman needs his help to find her son, missing from college at Oxford. Pleased to revisit old haunts, Lenox finds a connection to a London club called the September Society.
Only a handful of men belong to the club, which is exclusive to the point of anonymity. All members have links to the Army and to an obscure battle that provides a lesson into British colonial history.
Note on style
The descriptions of both London and Oxford are brilliant. The architecture, traditions, and landscape of Oxford is particularly well done as we explore the alleys and greens. Weathered stone and damp grass are underfoot, while wavy windows and spires rise above. Student life ranges between tutors, taverns, and games.
The plot races along as Lenox chases clues. The climax is a very satisfying surprise.
At this point, I’ve read 7 out of 14 Charles Lenox mysteries, which are best read in order. Lenox’s evolving life—marriage, children, a stint in Parliament, his own detective agency—features prominently. The books are fairly long and immersive, reminding me in style and tone of Anne Perry’s early William Monk historical mysteries.
I’m off to find the next in the series!
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DEL RIO by Jane Rosenthal
Jane Rosenthal joins the small but vital community of authors using fiction to reveal the complexity and heartbreak of the US-Mexico relationship. DEL RIO confronts the issues of human trafficking and migrant labor and delivers a compelling story rooted in empathy and authenticity.
Del Rio, California, has fallen on hard times, thanks to cartels on the other wide of the US-Mexico border. Hometown girl Callie McCall is now the local district attorney, a tough cookie aiming for higher political office.
A dismembered teen is found on the edge of a citrus grove. It’s on Callie’s watch and she shoulders the responsibility. The case sends Callie deep into Mexico, pursuing facts no one wants exposed, least of all her own landowning family and devious ex-husband.
She’ll get unexpected help from Nathan, a widower who has been tricked into working as a tour guide to provide cover for a cartel boss. Together, they survive a gruesome “warning” in the form of mangled bodies and begin to unravel a complex tangle of money and crime.
Note on style
The thriller moves between Callie’s first-person point of view and Nathan’s narrative, allowing the intricate plot to unfold without confusion. Callie’s family is a big part of the trouble and having her chapters tell it directly is a clever device.
I really liked the character development throughout the book. Both Callie and Nathan learn troubling but impactful lessons about themselves. Callie’s ambition and Nathan’s self-pity are cast off as they encounter drugs, murder, and human smuggling and we like them all the better for it. A supporting cast of secondary characters pop with authentic descriptions and plot-twisting tricks.
The scope of the story, breadth of character motives, and clever narrative style resonate long after the last page is turned. This is such a timely book.
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THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB by Richard Osman
What happens when the residents of a bucolic senior living community in England get together to investigate a murder? For starters, one murder becomes . . . many.
I’d read so many positive reviews of this book that I was primed to love it. And I did.
A local developer wants to add on to the Coopers Chase Retirement Village, home to Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron. They are the nucleus of the Thursday Murder Club, which gets together to review cold case files. The files belong to Penny, a retired police officer who has suffered a stroke and is incapacitated. The club is kept afloat by Elizabeth, Penny’s best friend and a wily former intelligence officer with contacts everywhere.
When the property developer dies under mysterious circumstances, throwing his plans to destroy the adjacent cemetery into disarray, the club decides to solve his murder. Elizabeth is the prime mover and uses the skills of each of the members to brilliant effect. Along the way, they’ll solve several other crimes that drift across the book like errant red herrings.
The novelty of the book is not only the subject matter, but the format. Joyce’s first-person diary entries are interspersed with scenes written from other points of view. All the voices carefully pull each other along through the complex case as each goes on their own small “hero’s journey.”
The more we get to know them, the more we love shrewd and mysterious Elizabeth, Joyce the man-chaser, Ibrahim the methodical retired therapist and Ron, the still-famous union activist and his son, a prize fighter making the circuit of talent competitions for the formerly famous. Add to the mix the two police officers who end up helping the club, as well as each other.
These well-drawn characters are so relatable that by the end of the book you’re ready for a drive to Coopers Chase. Luckily, I hear there is going to be a sequel.
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TRUE FICTION by Lee Goldberg
This outrageously campy thriller is pure escapism. Prepare to suspend disbelief, enjoy a zany premise, and get carried away.
Ian Ludlow, author of the he-man soldier of fortune Clint Straker thriller series, is a former TV writer from L.A. who is nothing like his heroic protagonist. But Ian is famous enough to be invited to a CIA-sponsored retreat with other action-adventure writers to dream up villainous scenarios so the Agency can prepare for the world’s emerging threats.
(Note: the CIA has lots of folks imaginative enough to write their own scenarios. See blog series above, thanks 🙂
Two years later, Ian is on a book tour in Seattle when the crazy scenario he developed for the CIA actually happens. Panicked, he reaches out to the other retreat writers, only to find out that they are all dead.
Suddenly, Ian’s recent rash of accidents don’t seem so random. When another attempt is made on his life, he goes on the run, dragging along a dog walker who works part-time for his publisher.
Ian doesn’t know the retreat wasn’t sponsored by the CIA but by a power-hungry corporation determined to use his scenario to take over US national security agencies. Ian is a loose end that needs to get tidied up.
Knowing that he’s being tracked, Ian needs help. Luckily the TV show he wrote starred the sort of help he needs. As the TV show comes into focus, it’s one of the funniest parts of the book.
Hollywood and the Vine. The tagline of the TV show is hysterical: Half man, half tree. All cop.
Sort of Starsky and Hutch meet The Ents.
Overall, the pace is slick, the writing is punchy, the situations are almost believable, and the campy fun never stops.
Although TRUE FICTION wraps neatly at the end, Ian’s saga continues. I can’t wait to grab the next book in this series.
Find TRUE FICTION on Amazon.