The Last Passenger: A Charles Lenox Mystery
This last of the three prequels to Finch’s Charles Lenox mysteries finds our aristocratic detective in his late twenties, in 1855, feeling the strains for his unorthodox career choice (many of his social equals and members of Scotland Yard consider him a dilettante) and for his persistent unmarried state. While he and his loyal valet, Graham, study criminal patterns in newspapers to establish his bona fides with the former, Lenox’s mother and his good friend, Lady Jane Grey, attempt to remedy the latter. One of the trilogy’s highlights is how it shows Lenox’s professional and emotional growth into urbane, self-confident maturity. Along these lines, The Last Passenger has the heaviest weight to pull and does so impressively. In terms of Lenox’s ongoing character arc, it’s the strongest of the three books.
His newest case is puzzling for several reasons. Late one October evening at Paddington Station, a young man on the 449 train from Manchester is found stabbed to death in the third-class carriage, with no luggage or identifying papers. Curiously, all the clothing labels on the body had been carefully cut out. Asked to help investigate by a bumbling Yard inspector who’s come to rely on his perspicacity, Lenox quickly deduces some facts about the murderer and the dead man’s origins, which make the case assume a much greater significance than the gang-related murder it was originally figured as. His investigation draws readers into the inner workings of Parliament and the international shipping industry while Lenox slowly comes to grips with the truth that he’s lonely, meaning he should start listening to the women in his life. The supporting characters burst with personality, and the short historical digressions are delightful enhancements. The title has a poignant double meaning, too, that fits the novel’s more serious themes.