If you are an author who sets your books in Victorian London and your first name is Charles, I have a special section on my bookshelf just for you. Granted, it’s a niche genre, but it’s not that crowded yet so now is the time to make your move if you’ve been considering a name change and a literary specialty. If that isn’t enough to entice you, maybe I should tell you a little bit about the company you’d be keeping. Take a close look at my cool authors shelf, population Charles Dickens and Charles Finch. (On Wednesdays, they wear pink.)
Victorian London is a wonderfully elastic world in which to set a book- by turns atmospheric and grand, violent and sexy. The tension that results from the convergence of Industrial Age modernity and monarchical rigidity is a forceful backdrop. Plus, the wardrobes are on point.
Victorian London: what is it about me that’s so awesome
Colonial America: maybe the top hats
Victorian London: i serve steamed suet for dessert
Colonial America: it’s definitely the top hats
Charles Dickens’ poignant ghost story A Christmas Carol has Victorian London street cred. Dickens drew on his own life experience in his writing, having been a poor child who worked in a blacking factory. As a successful author, his storytelling served as a platform for him to articulate his arguments about the impact of crippling poverty, class injustice, and the need for social reform. He self-published A Christmas Carol in 1843 and the rest is past, present and future. “Bah, Humbug” entered the English language and Scrooge achieved the kind of one-word name recognition that would one day be shared by Beyoncé and Liberace.
Charles Dickens: Goals: codify the meaning of Christmas for generations in one short book
Charles Dickens: (publishes A Christmas Carol)
Charles Dickens: nailed it
Over there on the shelf, to the right of the multiple copies of A Christmas Carol, are the books in the Charles Lenox historical mystery series by Charles Finch. A Beautiful Blue Death introduces Charles Lenox, amateur gentleman detective, wealthy enough to pursue his passion as a hobby but also wealthy enough for his passion to be tolerated by his social circle. (Oh, Victorian London, you and your insufferable class snobbery.) Lenox is sharply intelligent and remarkably intuitive, and his determination and drive are the core of the appeal of the books.
Charles Finch: Goals: publish an award-nominated debut historical mystery novel
Charles Finch: (publishes A Beautiful Blue Death)
Charles Finch: nailed it
According to every car commercial aired between 12/1-12/31 and all 4,324 Christmas movies on Lifetime, the month of December guarantees joys are magnified, memories are made, and problems are solved with a quick application of some Magic Of The Season. Sometimes, that is real life, but December has a way of magnifying all the opposites too. Losses are more resonant. Endings are more heartbreaking. The boomerang between the highs and the lows tuckers me out. Inevitably, there comes a moment in December when I need to shake off all the heightened, frantic expectations and when that moment comes, I’m selecting a favorite from the Charleses shelf for a solid re-reading chill session. I never get tired of Ebenezer Scrooge throwing off the weight of a lifetime of grief. I never get tired of Charles Lenox’s clever perserverance. I never get tired of imagining myself navigating the streets of Victorian London in a top hat.
Victorian London: seriously?
Colonial America: told you
Victorian London: what about sewage? got lots of that
Colonial America: sticking with the hats
If you’ve ever asked me for book recommendation, you’ve heard me talk about the Charleses. (Charleseses? Charlesi.) Also, if you’ve ever asked me for a book recommendation, I am so sorry, and I hope you have recovered. You were unprepared to be utterly swamped by a tsunami of pure booknerd glee. I should have warned you that I am positively evangelical about books I like. If you ask me for recommendations while you are in my undecorated house, I am going to take the book I want you to read off my shelf and press it into your hands while I describe in detail why I love it so much. You poor thing. Just nod and take it; I really can’t help myself. It’s because of my lack of bibliophilic boundaries that I buy the same books over and over again. When I need to spend some time re-reading, I’ll hit up my shelf only to find that the book I want isn’t there. Buying the same books every 18-24 months will really throw off Amazon’s recommendation algorithm.
Amazon: Did you enjoy A Beautiful Blue Death
Amazon: Then we recommend A Beautiful Blue Death
Me: I’ll take it
I’ve laid in some emergency formats for the inevitable days that my shelf presents a Charleses (Charlsises. Charlers?) gap. I picked up A Christmas Carol on audiobook this year to go with my hardback illustrated special edition and paperback. I own A Beautiful Blue Death in paperback and digital and just replaced the hardback (for the third time). When I’m ready to enjoy a favorite, I want to enjoy it however how I can in the moment I have available. Sometimes, that’s e-reading in a waiting room. Sometimes it’s a hardback on a lazy morning or an audiobook on a long drive. And sometimes, I want to enjoy it by pressing a copy into someone else’s hands.
On December days when the edges are ragged and the strings are strung tight, I am comforted by Charleses and the vision of top hats on a busy Victorian London street. Scrooge forgives the world that took his beloved sister. Charles Lenox tracks down West End thugs and Hyde Park racketeers. Souls are saved before it’s too late. There’s redemption and there’s justice. I’m reading something that has an ending I know, because all the endings I don’t know are looming a little too large. Maybe, when you asked me what you should read, I really heard you ask for a good ending. I get it. Here’s a Charles.