Art heist loses the plot



Dont point that thing at me

I came across this new reissued edition of the first Charlie Mortdecai novel when the new covers got tweeted by Penguin UK. I bought it on a whim the next time I was out book-shopping and looked forward to it being as the New Yorker says: “an unholy collaboration between P.G. Wodehouse and Ian Fleming.”

Well, it kind of was, and those were the aspects that I did like in this short novel.

Charlie is a criminally-minded aristocratic art dealer who likes art, money, dirty jokes and heavy drinking. Here we find him up to his neck in it with Chief Superintendent Martland on his tail after the theft of a Goya painting. Unfortunately for Charlie and his violent manservant Jock, possessing the canvas sees them in trouble not just with Martland’s boys in blue but also with some very nasty armed men.

The prose here is indeed witty, sometimes amusing and the violent endings that many who cross Charlie and Jock’s paths meet with, sets it apart from a straight up Jeeves and Wooster type tale. However what I didn’t like was that the plot was very far-fetched, difficult to follow and we are presented with no sympathetic characters to root for.

This is the first book in a trilogy first published in the early 1970s – I don’t think I’ll be pursuing the next two books. I would, though, recommend this for someone who just wants a short novel to read in a day, perhaps atop a narrow boat soothing through the Norfolk Broads or at a picnic under a tree. It’s funny in places, sometimes gripping, raunchy here and there with some quite tasty shootings and beatings if you like that sort of thing.


Notes on the author – Kyril Bonfiglioli

  • Born in Eastbourne in 1928 to an English mother and a Italian-Slovenian father
  • He studied at Oxford University, spent 5 years in the army and then became an art dealer like his creation
  • An accomplished fencer, shooter and “serial marrier of beautiful women.”
  • He died in Jersey in 1985

Adrian Mole meets Mary Poppins




In a London bookshop I challenged my husband to find a book he thought I’d like. Minutes later he returned with “Love, Nina.” The cover art included a tube of Toffos, a strip tease pen and glowing praise from one my favourite authors, Nick Hornby. He knows me so well – I was sold! Always judge a book by its cover.

In 1982 Nina Stibbe, aged 20, moves from Leicester to London to work as a nanny for a brilliantly eccentric family with famous connections. She could not cook and had no idea how to look after children, or who the strange guests that called round were. “Love, Nina” is the collection of letters she wrote home to her sister Victoria hilariously describing her new domestic life. From turkey mince to Geoffrey Chaucer, swearing in German to Trevor Brooking, every letter is crammed with batty anecdotes from 55 Gloucester Crescent.

Nina obviously adored her employer Mary-Kay Wilmers (Deputy Editor of the London Review of Books) and her two children Sam, 10, and Will, 9. There was also the hated cat Lucas, competing nannies in the Primrose Hill area, literary students and Alan Bennett – a neighbour who appeared at supper times and whose discussions across the dinner table with the kids are absolutely priceless – as is his on-going critique of Nina’s cooking.

This cast of (real-life) characters is rich and Nina has a turn of phrase and writes with a tone that is nothing short of comic genius. Every page is an absolute hoot and I read and re-read every letter in a bubble of sheer escapism and joy. The many 1980s references throughout the book also filled me with a sunny, happy nostalgia. As Nick Hornby said; “I adored this books and could quote from it forever.”

So could I but I won’t here. You need to buy this, read it and laugh yourself silly or ROFL as the kids say. One of the funniest books I’ve ever read.


Notes on the author: Nina Stibbe

  • Studied at Thames Polytechnic and worked in publishing
  • Now lives in Cornwall with her family
  • Look out for her next book – a novel called Man at the Helm released in August 2014