“Word Fun”

I have always loved learning about the origin of words or phrases. I also enjoy witty detective novels, especially if I can find a character who loves word play as I do. In Charles Finch’s most recent novel An Extravagant Death, Finch takes his Victorian sleuth from London to Newport, Rhode Island to solve the murder of a young debutante. While the murderer is easy to spot by anyone who reads a lot of murder mysteries, the joy in this book comes from the observations of New York and Newport society when a flood of newly rich industrial titans built ostentatious homes on a peninsula in New England. As a British observer, Charles Lenox, our investigator, sees how strange the jockeying for position seems in a society new to the idea of old and new money.

My favorite part of the novel, however, comes in the several instances that Lenox tries to entertain someone with the etymology of a word. In one case, he mentions the origin of backlog to someone who fails to either understand or be amused by his explanation.

Later he tells the reader that shrapnel was named after Lt. Henry Schrapnel who invented a cannonball filled with small lead balls which shattered on contact sending shards of hot metal into enemy lines. Was this necessary in the plot? Not at all, but this continues to help us see Lenox’ wit though few of his America contacts appreciate it.

So if you, as a very nerdy high school student like me, used to settle in with the Oxford English Dictionary on rainy days, you might enjoy meeting Charles Lenox in Charles Finch’s tales.

27 thoughts on ““Word Fun”

        1. I’d love to see it, especially since my goal is to see all 50 states and I’m missing RI. I’ve seen it included on cruises in the northeast which would be a great to check off some of my missing states. When the world is normal again of course.


  1. This made me smile, as I can see where infusing fun with words can make a detective story across the ocean all the better. Thank you for a very good review, Elizabeth.


    1. You are welcome. I do like to share well written books. I don’t post reviews of all the mediocre books I seem to be reading lately, all of them much praised by everyone except me it seems.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Elizabeth, you have hit a nerve. My reviews are on really good books. So many books are praised by others except me. Bear in mind this is with children’s books, a far more difficult area of writing.


        1. I wonder some times why my opinion is so vastly different from some reviews. I read a John Steinbeck biography which drove me crazy with clunky sentences. All the reviews I found praised the author’s style!

          Liked by 1 person

        2. I know what you mean, and I often feel the same way. ‘Often’ is the key word. My husband jokingly tells me I’m a book snob, but I’m not. I just know and appreciate good writing. I’m baffled with praised reviews on certain books.


  2. I enjoy the history of the English language Elizabeth, I actually did the subject for matriculation.
    Our final assessment was translating a portion of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from old English to modern English. Explaining the origins of certain words. I thoroughly enjoyed it!


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