I’ve long enjoyed reading and listening to the Charles Lenox Victorian mystery series by Charles Finch, and this prequel is a great entry into the series. Set in London and Kent in 1853, gentleman Charles Lenox, 26, along with his valet Graham, is learning to be a private detective, even though he doesn’t need to charge for his services. His good friend, Lady Jane, lives next door and supports his new endeavor. The Vanishing Man of the title could refer to two mysteries; the theft of a portrait of a former duke and the disappearance of the current Duke of Dorset, whose London mansion is close to Parliament and the Thames River. Lenox is in search of both, and an even more intriguing mystery relating to William Shakespeare. I enjoy the audiobook narration of James Langton, as well as a strong sense of place, very appealing main characters, and a clever plot. Recommended for historical mystery readers and Anglophiles. The first prequel is The Woman in the Water, and the first book in the main series is A Beautiful Blue Death.
Romance, mystery, history, Victorian art, and rare books combine to make for an engaging read. The setting moves from the 1980s and 1990s in North Carolina and England to the Victorian era and Elizabethan England. In 1995, rare book dealer Peter Byerly has retreated from North Carolina to an English cottage after the death of his wife Amanda. Finally visiting a bookstore, he is stunned to find a Victorian watercolor portrait tucked into a book about Shakespearean forgeries. The portrait looks just like his wife, who studied Victorian art. When Amanda’s books don’t identify the artist, he is referred to an art society meeting in London, where he meets book editor Liz Sutcliffe. The mystery of the portrait and its artist are somehow connected to an Elizabethan novel Pandosto by Robert Greene, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play The Winter’s Tale. A copy of Pandosto with margin notes by Shakespeare and a list of people who owned the book could be proof that Shakespeare really wrote his plays; or it could be a forgery. The search puts Peter and Liz in jeopardy, while alternating chapters describe Peter and Amanda’s college years and the people who owned the copy of Pandosto. Peter’s joy in learning about rare books and his love for Amanda add depth to the story.