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by Charles Finch
St Martin's Minotaur, August 2008
310 pages
ISBN: 0312359780

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This charming second novel in the Charles Lenox series, THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY, is a sapphire of a story for Agatha Award nominated author Charles Finch. The Victorian murder mystery here links back to military service in the Anglo-Sikh War in India and a secretive social club, the September Society (of the title) operating in 1866 when the main story begins. Amateur detective Charles Lenox has chosen a most unusual profession for someone of his upper class social status; still, when a friend, Lady Annabelle Payson, needs help locating her missing son, Lenox seems the man to sort it all out.

Lenox is an Oxford man, and this works to his advantage as he returns to his college grounds to investigate the whereabouts of the missing student, George Payson, who is reading modern history at Lincoln College. Although the clues left behind in George's rooms are perplexing, it is clear that something called the September Society is somehow at the core of the mystery. Although Oxford is full of social clubs, it turns out that the September Society is a private membership club in London for former members of the military who served in India nearly 20 years earlier, leaving Lenox with more questions than answers about the missing boy.

Assisting Lenox in his detective work is a range of friends and acquaintances, including his man servant, Graham, and his friend McConnell, a doctor and soon-to-be first time father, as well as others including a potential apprentice and a detective at Scotland Yard. His brother, Edmund, a member of Parliament, also makes an appearance and helps pave the way to a clue. In short, as a result of his social class, Lenox is connected to a myriad of people who help him sort out the bits and pieces of two murders, one that occurred nearly 20 years earlier.

There are plenty of twists and turns along the way, and readers will certainly be surprised at some developments. However, it is the fascinating daily life of Charles Lenox, including his friends and activities, which shines in this Victorian era mystery. Another highly enjoyable element of the story is its Oxford setting. Finch captures perfectly the charm and grace of an Oxford education and takes readers on tour of the colleges and surrounding area that make up the city and university of Oxford. While the story's actions toggle back and forth between London and Oxford, the scenes set in Oxford truly engage the reader.

THE SEPTEMBER SOCIETY has much to recommend it: likable characters, engaging settings, a complex puzzle of a mystery, and an amateur detective worth rooting for. For readers who enjoy a well crafted historical mystery, it's good luck that this charming Charles Lenox series has come along.

Reviewed by Christine Zibas, October 2008

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