Reviewed by Jim Ezell*, January 30, 2019
Victorian London in 1853 was the world’s largest city. Its denizens represented a cross-section of society spanning the extreme limits of existence from that of the lowest prostitute and beggar to the queen (and later empress) of much of the world. In this prequel, author Charles Finch has again immersed his amateur detective Charles Lenox into this cauldron of humanity.
Although a commoner, Lenox is well-educated, financially independent, and well-connected socially. His milieu is a comfortable mix of all classes. He is as comfortable drinking tea with a duchess as he is having a pint of bitters with his coachman at a pub.
As this latest prequel of the Charles Lenox series unfolds, he is summoned to the palatial residence of the Duke of Dorset, perhaps the fourth highest personage of the realm. Apparently a burglar has taken a painting of one of the Duke’s ancestors. However, the thief overlooked an immensely valuable portrait that hung next to the purloined painting—the only known portrait from life of William Shakespeare. Lenox is duly commissioned to investigate.
Events unfold quickly. Dorset is kidnapped and returns unharmed. Then a shocking murder occurs in the Duke’s household and the mystery deepens. Lenox subsequently unearths clues that the stolen painting, by itself unremarkable and of little value, is the key to a greater treasure—a treasure whose worth is beyond comprehension.
The Vanishing Man is fast-paced and the writing crisp. A reader can almost smell the streets of London and hear the clatter of hooves and wheels and the shouts of drivers and street vendors. Finch also adds fascinating and succinct details of the English language and the hierarchical structure of the British nobility. Charles Finch is at the height of his powers and his latest offering is one of his finest works to date.
*Check out James N. Ezell’s The Cistern, available in-store or online at Ernest & Hadley Booksellers!