The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss
My goodness, the melodrama!
Lucifer Box is, by day, a painter, and by night, a secret agent for His Majesty King Edward. Breaking and entering, theft, assassination, and saving the world are all part of the job. He's a glorified dandy in imaculately tailored suits, stunningly snobbish, and delightfully decadent. One of the most brilliantly designed characters I've come across.
The Vesuvius Club sees him investigating the death and disappearance of a foriegn diplomant and several prominent geoloigical scientists, taking him to the lovely city of Naples and the slopes of Vesuvius itself. It unfolds that a lot more than relic smuggling is going on, and possibly the entirety of Italy is at stake.
Along the way he encounters such fully-fleshed characters as Joshua Reynolds, the dwarf who runs the secret service and conducts his business meetings in a super secret lavatory; Cretaceous Unmann, a total wet hen; and the Duce, whose tragic history is the stuff of fairy tales. There are carriage chases, femme fatales, secret societies, debauchery, such debauchery, poisonous centipedes, frankenstein-like monsters, mad scientists, and infernal devices in ruined cities.
Yes, all the characters have such fantastic names.
The story harks back to the days of pulp, and is gorgeously written. Lucifer's voice is strong throughout, and ridiculously tongue-in-cheek. It's an irreverance that will seduce you. James Bond wishes he had Lucifer Box's style. Over the top, outrageous, and full of a contagious glee that I was more than happy to dive into. For once, I was content to merely follow the story as it unravelled, and made no attempt to decipher the end myself. It was far more entertainly leaving Lucifer at the wheel. Never a dull moment, despite the many long hot baths he seems to lavish upon himself.
It even came with illustrations, oh joy of joys! I never stopped loving picture books.
It's a book I had immense fun reading, and that should be enough to sell it to any of you. "A Bit of Fluff" subtitles it, and I can't claim it changed my life. But oh, if only there were more stories detailing Lucifer's adventures (just in case Mr Gatiss passes by, hint hint).
Verdict: Ridiculously and fun. Lovely old-fashioned feel to it. Herr Barrow, of all, would enjoy it most.