First off, if I were Charles Finch's editor:
To: Mr. Finch
Re: Terrible use of exposition
Do not have one character say to another, "Since Napoleon left power three years ago - for that matter, he died three months ago - we don't know where we stand with the French. This third republic is unpredictable."
This is not okay. It is especially not okay given that both characters are members of Parliament and so do not need to be informing each other of these events.
Try, instead: Edward said, "We don't know where we stand with the French. This third republic is unpredictable."
Charles nodded. Since Napoleon III was overthrown three years ago, relations between France and England had remained uncertain. [My brief research on Wikipedia indicates that Napoleon's death in exile did not affect said relations, so is irrelevant.]
See? Now your reader can say, "Hmm, okay, third republic, no more Napoleons, I'll look this up if I want to know more," instead of, "Oh MAN, that hurt to read."
Equally painful is our MOP hero's claim to know nothing about Sir Joseph Banks, so that other characters can provide exposition. Reminiscent of, though not nearly as bad as, the sexist exposition crap in The Eyre Affair.*
Okay, that out of the way, the plot. Charles Lenox, a retired detective and now member of Parliament, is sent by the government on a mission to Egypt to meet with a French spy. While en route, an officer of the ship on which he travels is murdered, and the captain asks Lenox to solve the murder.
The problem with this book is that everything felt truncated. The murder plot, the spy plot... all of it felt like it needed several more chapters at the very least. And the layout of the ship never came fully clear in my mind, which would have helped a lot. I did catch the slip-up statement which the murderer makes - very Agatha Christie - but there wasn't the "aha!" moment which can make a well-written mystery so satisfying.
Alas, I have to conclude that Finch's writing hasn't improved enough in five books for me to give this a good review. This had all the problems I found in A Beautiful Blue Death: it was all too light, too close to the surface for me to get emotionally, or even very mentally, involved. Rather a disappointment.
Next up: Charles Dickens: A Life, by Claire Tomalin. Reading about Dickens is always good Christmas preparation.
*Male character: "The time is out of joint!"
Our heroine, repeatedly referred to as England's foremost Shakespeare expert: "Is that from 'Hamlet'?"
Male character: "Why, yes, little lady."
Female reader: ....WHAT
Male character: "Say, have you heard of the Earl of Oxford hypothesis?"
Our heroine, repeatedly referred to as England's foremost Shakespeare expert: "No, I have not! Since Jasper Fforde subscribes to it, please put the plot on hold for four pages and tell me!"
Male character: *blah blah stupid elitist thoroughly-debunked conspiracy theory*
Our heroine: "Fascinating! I am no longer sure Shakespeare wrote anything!"
Male character: "That's right, little lady."
Female reader: THIS IS NOT REALLY HAPPENING
I must add here that Charles Finch has never written anything so awful as that, and he did write an excellent take-down of the stupid "Anonymous" film, so I have to like him for that.