Review: Don’t Point That Thing At Me, Kyril Bonfiglioli

This book is very odd.  For one thing, it was first published in 1973 but really seemed to have been forgotten until it suddenly regained literary momentum in the last year or so.  Then there’s the protagonist, Charlie Mortdecai and his taciturn but highly deadly manservant, Jock.  I looked it up afterwards and my suspicions were confirmed – this does have its roots as a pastiche of Jeeves and Wooster.  It was hard to tell whether this was a thriller, a comedy or just social satire.  Either way it was terrific fun but definitely in the mold of style over plot.

Charlie Mortdecai is a fringe member of the British aristocracy and a distinctly amoral art dealer who dabbles with crime.  Rather like Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman series, Mortdecai’s acerbic commentary as he goes along is what gives the series its verve and I can imagine how it stretches out into five books.  Mortdecai is a very portable character, with snide opinions on everything from his opponent’s morals to their dress sense and choices in interior decor.  Still, I had a hard time picturing him as played by Johnny Depp.  To me, his tone recalled more Ralph Fiennes as he was in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Like Flashman, Mortdecai has few redeeming features – the only thing that possibly counts in his favour is his bond with Jock the manservant and even that has its rough moments.  Still, Bonfiglioli’s undoubted wit keeps Mortdecai just on the right side of this reader’s good graces.  There are some fantastic turns of phrase – Mortdecai watches in rapture as Mrs Spon turns on a character and ‘Told Him Off.  I had heard of her talents in that direction but had never before been privileged to hear her unlock the word bag.  It was a literary and emotional feast.’  On another occasion, Mortdecai is forced to phone the garage after a particularly hairy escapade, regretfully observing that his ‘no-claims bonus is just a dream of childhood now.’  My personal favourite came though when he got into a row with a Mr S, Mordecai drawls lazily, ‘I have never had any daughters but this did not stop [him] from sketching out their careers from the nursery to the street corner.’  I finished it at speed and a smile but have retained very little of the finer details of the plot.

It seems odd to categorise this as crime, since Mortdecai never quite feels like villain or hero.  He trips through his adventures without any real plan and on the whole he brings all the trouble on himself.  However – there is a real charm and energy to the story that may very well bring me back for the sequel …

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Don't Point that Thing at Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli
Published by Overlook Press on August 31st 2004
Genres: Fiction, Crime, Thrillers, General
Pages: 198
ISBN: 9781468307870

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