The Woman in the Water is the eleventh in the Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch, but it takes us back to when Lenox was just twenty-three years old. He’s forty in the first book, so it’s a long trip back in time, but it does suggest there is a lot of potential for more stories.
In The Woman in the Water. Lenox has not established his reputation as a detective and is mostly perceived as a joke. Each morning, he and Graham, his valet, go through the papers looking for crime-related stories. They find one claiming to have committed a perfect crime and announcing their intent to commit another on the month anniversary so they begin to investigate. When they identify the likely first murder, they go to Scotland Yard. Their deductions are soon confirmed by a second body. They begin to investigate, with Lenox officially employed to his chagrin. However, despite their excellent work, Lenox must overcome doubt and contempt by Scotland Yard detective and the shock and disapproval of society.
Lenox personal life is also in turmoil. His father is dying and he can’t do anything about it. He loves Elizabeth (Jane) but she is married to someone else. Their friendship is strained by his declaration of love and then by complications of the case.
I thought this was a great mystery. It was complex, with multiple layers that needed to be peeled back, with plenty of misdirection and confusion. The villain was as clever as a Moriarty and the somewhat incomplete resolution makes room for more complications in the future.
Series mysteries always have this tension between keeping the detective in a kind of stasis, their personal lives nonexistent, just solving mysteries one after the other. Think of Perry Mason who possibly never went on a date in his life. Lenox is just the opposite, getting married, changing career, becoming a parent, and moving beyond detecting to politicking and back again. Sometimes they can get written into a place where there is nowhere to go. Going back to the past is a brilliant approach to revitalize a character like Lenox. From 23 to 40 gives us decades of untapped potential stories. It’s also fun to read when Lenox is more challenged, less certain, having to prove his worth.
I received an e-galley of The Woman in the Water from the publisher through NetGalley.