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

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