Welcome to the “where” stop of Charles Finch’s Whodunnit Tour! His newest Charles Lennox mystery, THE LAWS OF MURDER, will be out on Nov. 11th, and we’ve also got a copy to giveaway to one lucky US winner, courtesy of the nice folks at St. Martin’s Press!
England, the country I write about in the series of mystery novels I write, has gone by so many aliases in fiction over the years that it’s taken on a kind of magical second life, in which the Shire is laid like a thin veil over Cornwall, and Lyra’s Jordan College lives in the shadows of Oxford’s cobblestoned streets. When I visit the country now I feel as if I’m seeing both places. America doesn’t have that doubleness in exactly the same way, nor France, nor anywhere really, which is part of what’s so wonderful about England as a country.
There’s a temptation to write in each of the two Englands, too. In my sixth Lenox book, A Death in the Small Hours, I invented a village called Plumbley. It was an amalgam of several real villages I’ve known – I lived in England for several years, and spent time in Burford, in Chipping Norton – but it also owed a great deal to the fictional villages of Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, and Arthur Conan Doyle, with their friendly intimacy and their long-held secrets.
Then again, my books are dotted with real places, too. For instance, there’s Gordon’s, the ancient, spectral underground wine bar near Hungerford Bridge, which is always one of the first places I visit when I’m in London, or Buckingham Palace, where Lenox is called to investigate a seemingly random break-in in An Old Betrayal. The ultimate compromise for me is Hampden Lane, which readers of the series will know is the small, leafy street off Grosvenor Square where Lenox has lived throughout the series – made up, along with its cozy bookseller’s and its baker’s on the corner, but based on a dozen Mayfair side streets I walk through with great pleasure (and my notebook out) every time I’m in the neighborhood.
As I was starting the series, I actually thought about setting it in a fictional England, an alternate universe. (Susanna Clarke did a wonderful, uncanny job of that in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.) I thought it might give a more expansive set of possibilities to the characters I was writing about, since Victorian England is already well-covered turf.
But as I was doing my research, reading again through George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell, poring over old maps of London, I decided that the world was simply too rich to give up. If you’re going to create Hogwarts, you’d better know exactly what it’s like, in all its lineaments – as JK Rowling did, planning out so much of her world before she set a word to paper. I may do that some day – and England is the place to do it – but in the Lenox mysteries, I like what I have, a word both real and not-real, a place that exists to this day and never existed at all: in other words, the usual where of a novel.
About THE LAWS OF MURDER:
It’s 1876, and Charles Lenox, once London’s leading private investigator, has just given up his seat in Parliament after six years, primed to return to his first love, detection. With high hopes he and three colleagues start a new detective agency, the first of its kind. But as the months pass, and he is the only detective who cannot find work, Lenox begins to question whether he can still play the game as he once did.
Then comes a chance to redeem himself, though at a terrible price: a friend, a member of Scotland Yard, is shot near Regent’s Park. As Lenox begins to parse the peculiar details of the death – an unlaced boot, a days-old wound, an untraceable luggage ticket – he realizes that the incident may lead him into grave personal danger, beyond which lies a terrible truth.
With all the humanity, glamor, and mystery that readers have come to love, the latest Lenox novel is a shining new confirmation of the enduring popularity of Charles Finch’s Victorian series.