In the 10th installment of this Victorian-era series, a Member of Parliament–turned–private detective gets the chance to solve a 30-year-old mystery that involves his boyhood friend.
Charles Lenox hasn’t seen his Harrow school friend Gerald Leigh in many years, ever since Leigh got happily expelled and set off for a life of travel and, eventually, scientific inquiry. But hearing from Leigh generates an extra sense of excitement when his letter reveals that his return to London is related to his “mysterious benefactor.” Lenox and Leigh started an unusual friendship at school when Leigh explained that his tuition was paid by an anonymous “friend,” whose identity he desperately wanted to figure out. It was Lenox’s first mystery, and it still hasn’t been solved. It becomes clear that this is much more than child’s play when Leigh goes missing from the Collingwood Hotel and Lenox must track him down—and once he does, Leigh reports that attempts have been made on his life. The descriptions of the attackers are at once familiar to Lenox, who recognizes the pair as Anderson and Singh, part of the notorious Farthing gang. Who could possibly order this traveling scientist dead? This is when Leigh reveals that the mysterious benefactor has recently left him a rather large sum, enough to make him rich by any standards—and enough to make people risk killing for it. While in London, Leigh is also persuaded to speak at the Royal Society, which has been encouraging his visit for a long time. To Lenox’s surprise, his old friend has become quite the sensation. But when Leigh’s solicitor Ernest Middleton is found murdered, Lenox is reminded that the target is still very much on Leigh’s back. It’s time he consults his agency partners Lord John Dallington and Polly Buchanon, who have been working a break-in case at Parliament, keeping watch there overnight and, to Lenox’s extreme interest, becoming closer with each passing day. The tension continues to rise as an element of deceit clouds the entire investigation and events take surprisingly sinister and twisting turns.
Finch impressively raises the stakes of this tale between tea settings, and his character development is top-notch.