The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss

Lucifer Box is the narrator and hero of this tale.  He is London’s foremost portraitist, and a charming wit and dandy, with an eye for pretty ladies (and men).  He is also a secret agent in the employ of His Majesty’s Government, in Edwardian England (who lives at number 9 Downing Street, no less – as he says, “Well someone has to live there”).  He is tasked with investigating the mysterious deaths of two eminent professors, and the murder of one of his fellow secret agent in Naples.  As Lucifer heads to Naples himself he finds himself drawn further and further into the mystery.  He tells the story in his own inimitable style, peppered with saucy wit and smart witticisms.

This is a hugely enjoyable satirical romp – Lucifer is perhaps the James Bond of his time, and finds himself entangled in many outlandish and incredible situations, which require all of his guile and cunning to extricate himself from.

Both Edwardian London and Naples are brought vividly to life, and Box’s descriptions of Pompeii made me want to visit that famous site.

Lucifer himself is a terrific hero – he is brazenly immoral, doubtlessly charming and the sort of rakish cad who I couldn’t help liking, despite myself.  The writing made me laugh out loud on several occasions, and it was impossible not to root for him.

The supporting cast of charcters have wonderful names such as Christopher Miracle, Kitty Blacklash and Charlie Jackpot, which add to the fun and served to remind me of the satirical nature of the plot when things sometimes took on a slightly more serious nature.  Yes, it requires the reader to suspend belief, and yes it is an outrageous story – but that’s fine, because that is exactly what it is supposed to be.  The subtitle of the story is ‘A Bit of Fluff’ – and that sums the book up perfectly.  it’s not to be taken seriously, it’s meant to be funny, sharp and pure entertainment.  And that’s precisely what it is.

I very much look forward to reading the next book in the series.

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