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Powells.com
Saturday, August 27th, 2005


 

Don't Point That Thing at Me: A Charlie Mortdecai Mystery

by Kyril Bonfiglioli

A review by Georgie Lewis

Misanthropes everywhere, rejoice! Overlook Press has rescued the (dis)Honorable Charlie Mortdecai from oblivion, reissuing three of his wickedly funny, crime-ridden mysteries that have been out of print for far too long.

Don't Point That Thing at Me, After You with the Pistol, and Something Nasty in the Woodshed were written by Kyril Bonfiglioli in the 1970s and have been cult favorites in Britain for some time. These deliciously mischievous, slim volumes are a treat for lovers of acrobatic wordplay, zippy plots, cheeky internal dialogue, a reliable (albeit disreputable) narrator, and some extremely vulgar humor.

Charlie Mortdecai is an art dealer, the same career as author Bonfiglioli's, and a dodgy one at that. The author's note in the opening states, "This is not an autobiographical novel: it is about some other portly, dissolute, immoral and middle aged art dealer."

The witty banter is remarkably reminiscent of P. G. Wodehouse, and Mortdecai and his trusty manservant Jock Strapp certainly have a Jeeves and Wooster-like relationship. However, Bonfiglioli disabuses you of any notion of plagiarism by introducing Jock as "a sort of anti-Jeeves: silent, resourceful, respectful even, when the mood takes him, but sort of drunk all of the time, really, and fond of smashing people's faces in."

And the mysteries here are not as much "solved" in the way other portly detectives with a nose for gourmand fare, say Nero Wolfe or Hercule Poirot, would have it. No, Mortdecai is just meddling where he shouldn't, stumbling onto blackmail (okay, okay, he sort of solicited that one), witchcraft, rape, and art theft (oh, and, yes, that was hardly accidental either) and then wriggling around in his cowardly hilarious way, lying with grandiosity, and inevitably landing right-side up, and usually hung-over.

To call Mortdecai a bigot is missing the point, really. He hates almost everyone and is well aware that many are not particularly fond of him either:

"In the end I took a bus; the conductor wore a turban and hated me on sight. I could see him memorizing me so he could go on hating me after I'd got off."

Old people, the Welsh, car mechanics, women, all are fodder for Mortdecai's merciless wit and irascible nature. If he wasn't as hard on himself as others you'd be inclined to think him a total prat.

How an author manages to make every line a delight to read is a mystery I'll never solve, but one that the deceased Bonfiglioli most certainly had mastered. Thank goodness these divine gems live to see the light again.


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