Friday, September 10, 2021

A Burial at Sea

 A Burial at Sea (2011) by Charles Finch

Charles Lenox, fairly new member of Parliament and sometime detective, finds himself in a new role in this fifth entry in Finch's Victorian-era mystery series. His brother Edward, speaking on behalf of certain government officials, asks Lenox to go on a secret mission to Egypt. A number of English spies have been killed on French soil and tensions are once again rising high between the two countries. It is feared that France is preparing for war. So, using a visit to the newly-dug Suez Canal as cover, Lenox will meet with a Frenchman willing to trade secrets to find out just how compromised Britain's spy system is and just how prepared France is for hostilities.

But first he has to make a safe trip to the canal aboard the Lucy. A killer is stalking the naval crew--the first to die is the ship's second lieutenant, Mr. Halifax. He is stabbed and his torso cut open...and certain, shall we say, souvenirs are left in and around the body. The captain quickly calls upon Lenox to use his detective skills to find the murderer. The hunt for more clues is slow-going. To add to the problems there is a rumor of mutiny and then another death follows before he can pinpoint the culprit. He nearly becomes the third victim and has to be rescued from the clutches of the sea while the villain appears to have been lost. 

Leaving the killer to his fate on the Mediterranean, they arrive in Egypt where Lenox expects the only danger to be from French spies who may have suspicions about Her Majesty's representative's motives in Port Said. But he'll need another rescue from a villain determined to see him dead--fortunately, he's won the loyalty of his ship's steward and Mr. McEwan saves the day.

There is much going on in this one. We have a nice, vintage-style closed group puzzle plot with the murders aboard the Lucy. And we have a spy thriller theme. For naval history buffs, there's a lot of interesting information about life aboard a steam-assisted naval ship. Despite the gruesome nature of the murders, this was a fun book--McEwan is quite a character, a non-stop eating machine who is round in shape but can swing among the rigging with the best of the sailors. I enjoyed the scenes of life aboard the Lucy and appreciated Lenox's first taste of sailing. I was pleased to see his detective work take more of the limelight, the secret mission is almost an after thought so we don't get a lot of the cloak and dagger stuff. Overall, a very good entry in the series. ★★★★

First line: He gazed out at the sunfall from an open second-floor window, breathing deeply of the cool salt air, and felt it was the first calm moment he had known in days.

Last line: Edmund remembered hearing it very specifically, the whisper, but he did not learn the meaning and import of that stray word until several months later: Only after Charles and Jane had their child, a baby girl.


Deaths = 8 (two stabbed; three strangled/hanged; two drowned; one fell from height)

1 comment:

Laura said...

I just finished this author's The September Society. It was fantastic so I will definitely be reading this book and every other book he has written.