Title: The Vesuvius Club
Author: Mark Gatiss
Genre: Edwardian Thriller
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: 4th July 2005
Stand alone or series: Part of the ‘Lucifer Box’ adventure series, if you enjoy this there’s ‘The Devil in Amber’ and ‘Black Butterfly.’
Why did I choose to read this book? I chose it because Stephen Fry described it as, "The most delicious, depraved, inventive, macabre and hilarious literary debut I can think of. More, I want more!” with that introduction there’s no other reason necessary.
Where to read: Somewhere like the Beaufort Bar at the Savoy Hotel:
Refreshments: A full-bodied red wine and a good cheese board.
In the Vesuvius Club we are introduced to the frivolous character of Lucifer Box, the most sought after bachelor of the Edwardian belle monde. He is society’s favorite portrait painter, a dandy and a cad, as well Her Majesty’s Secret Services go-to secret agent. So when a group of Britain’s most prominent scientists, known as the ‘Cambridge Four’ begin turning up dead, there is only one man England can rely on.
Our fearless agent takes us on a non-stop journey through the underbelly of Edwardian London, via a horse drawn carriage chase through a cemetery, a small pit-stop at a dinner party where we catch up with the crème de la crème of high society and a visit to a funeral parlor. This is all before we are sent over to Naples, to be introduced to the ruined city of Pompeii where we enter Chinese run opium dens and the inner caves of the Vesuvius volcano itself in the run up to the denouement.
It’s understandable that Gatiss has such a flair for this genre after his recent successful ventures into writing for such TV series as Sherlock Holmes, Dr Who and The League of Gentleman. The story he weaves is utterly unique and manages to shock the reader continually with its absurd plot twists and turns largely thanks to the books central character, Mr Lucifer Box.
In Box, Gatiss has created, one of the most memorable literary characters who will unfortunately never get the recognition he deserves. If you mixed Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Oscar Wilde together you might come close to understanding the character. Box is shocking and unashamedly so, with quotes like, “Well, what was I to do? For the well-bred gentleman there was clearly only one recourse. I fucked him.” You can’t help but be supremely intrigued by this paradox of an individual.
Gatiss’s originality certainly doesn’t end there. One of his strengths as a writer is his penchant for the faintly ridiculous which is emphasized every time you meet one of his characters. We have Box’s handler, a dwarf of a man who liaises with Box in public toilets, missing agent Jocelyn Poop, a stereotypically named Chinese man known as Mr. Lee who runs an opium den, an unlikely sidekick in the beautiful Charlie Jackpot and the ghastly Delilah, Box’s henchwoman who comes across as more of a hunchback of Notre Dame-esque character than a lady. This is but a handful of the people you meet as Lucifer Box deduces and seduces his way to solving the central crime.
The novel is also supported by the weird and wonderful illustrations by Ian Bass who captures Gatiss’s vivid imagination between the pages and gives you an additional point of entry into the world of the Vesuvius Club.
At the end of the day the story of Lucifer Box is unashamedly entertaining and outrageous. It will have you cringing one minute and laughing the next, it’s cheeky and decadent without going too over the top – a definite must read!
Extras: And if you fancy listening to the wonderful world of Lucifer Box it’s also available on Audio as well.
Rating: 8.5 – heartily recommended