Friday, September 25, 2015

A Beautiful Blue Death by Charles Finch

Rating: WARTY!

This is a Sherlock Holmes knock-off without Sherlock or any of his better traits. The main character here is Charles Lenox, who is far more sluggish than Sherlock Holmes, and has no close confidante with whom to share his speculations. Indeed, speculation is all he seems to have, because although he notices clues and picks up on things others do not, he also fails to make much progress, plunging this novel into the doldrums in the middle third. He has several suspects, but we're never really given any information as to why he suspects them - or if we were, I missed it somehow. He seems to have selected them on basis of opportunity alone, with the two slices of bread in this MOM sandwich - means and motive, not in play at all. Hence he spends too long sitting around speculating, and very little time searching for further clues, or pursuing other inquiries. It quickly became tedious to read.

He also has no killer instinct. At one point he's questioning a suspect who has a burn mark on his arm, yet he fails to ask him about it - supposedly, we're told, because he feels the man will not answer truthfully. He resolves to ask him later, but offers no reason - other than, it seems, the author's desire to withhold clues from the reader - as to why he might be more truthful later when he's more confident of getting away with whatever deception he has going, than he was then. His pursuit of enquiries with other suspects and knowledgeable individuals seems lackluster and half-hearted. The comparison with Holmes matches on pretty much all fronts except for the most important ones: he's tall, he's thin, he smokes, he's of independent means, he loves solving crimes, and he has a smart brother, but practically, he's not a patch on Holmes and nowhere near as interesting, but every bit as fristrating.

I got the impression that this was taking place in January. Although no date was specified, there was frequent mention of cold and snow, and no mention of approaching Christmas, yet when it came to sunset, it was noted that it was approaching at five pm, whereas in London in January, sunset is at 4pm in the early part of the month, increasing towards five pm, but never quite getting there as the month drifts by. With smog and overcast, snowy weather, the sunset wouldn't change of course, but it would grow darker earlier. It could have been February, of course, but it was a little odd to have no idea of when it was other than the year.

There was a problem with the timing at the end of chapter 31 as compared with the start of chapter 32. In 31, we're told that dinner lasted two hours and then, according to the text, dancing began almost immediately - at least, there is no indication that any significant time passed, much less a whole hour, but in 32, we're told that the ball commenced an hour after dinner. Maybe the events in the penultimate paragraph of 31 occupied an hour, but it didn't feel like it. It's no big deal, but it does jar in a novel where readers are predisposed to look for anomalies!

After a second death, Lenox helps to obliterate all the evidence by moving the body! How irresponsible is that? Yes, I get that crime scenes were not considered inviolable as they rightfully are now, but to have Lenox do this - indeed, instigate it - makes him look like an idiot. He has no right to interfere with police business like this. It makes him look like a meddlesome busybody which isn't something you want to do to your hero in a novel like this.

It was at this point, slightly over two-thirds the way into this story, that I quit reading it. I had been slowly losing interest for the previous third, and this was the final straw that made me decide I could be reading something more engaging and more fulfilling. Life is too short to spend it reading something that doesn't wholly engross you. By this point I had no interest in any of the characters, and no interest whatsoever in whodunnit.

I cannot recommend this unless you're into really slow novels that take forever to get to the point.

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