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Don't Point that Thing at Me - Kyril Bonfiglioli

”Destroying the painting was out of the question: my soul is all stained and shagged with sin like a cigarette smoker’s moustache but I am quite incapable of destroying works of art. Steal them, yes, cheerfully, it is a mark of respect and love, but destroy them, never. Why even the Woosters had a code, as we are told on the highest authority.”

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Johnny Depp plays Mortdecai in the 2015 movie. I’ve not seen it, but most of the reviewers are torching it. Regardless, I will eventually watch it.”

Charlie Mortdecai is a cad of the worst kind. He is educated, capable of refinement, a degenerate member of the upper crust, a gluttonous eater of fine foods, a dabbler in fine art, and a man readily admitting that he lacks moral courage. He is completely untrustworthy except when it comes to doing what is absolutely best for Charlie. He quotes P. G. Wodehouse though he has little in common with Bertie Wooster, except for an occasional bout of self-centered bumbling, and certainly his thuggish manservant Jock Strapp is no Jeeves.

When a Goya goes missing, Mortdecai is the primary and only suspect. He is given a visit by his arch-nemesis Martland.”Martland has only two personalities--Wilde and Eeyore. Nevertheless, he is a very cruel and dangerous policeman.”After Charlie, with the help of Jock, convinces Martland to beat it, Mortdecai starts making plans to sell the painting because, of course, he did steal the painting.

”The truth had to be delivered in carefully spaced rations, so as to give him a healthy appetite for later lies.”

Now Martland, and it turns out others, isn’t trying to get the painting back to return it to the rightful owners. They are planning to steal it from the thief and sell it themselves. They are quite willing to step over the cooling corpse of a certain Mortdecai to do so.

Mortdecai might be portly, but when his life is on the line, he becomes very light on his feet. He hides the Goya in his Rolls Royce and has it hoisted on to the boat that will take him to America to meet his Southwestern American buyer.

When he arrives in America, his first challenge is conquering the Old Oklahoma Cattleman’s Breakfast Special or the O.O.C.B.S.. It is a thick raw steak, a hunk of salt bacon the size of Jocks’ fist, sourdough biscuits, a pot of hot coffee, and a half a gill of rye whiskey. ”Britain’s honour lay in pawn to my knife and fork.” If there is ever a man who can overcome a pile of food, it is Charlie Mortdecai. ”Tis from scenes like this that Britain’s greatness springs. I accepted a free drink from the barman, shook hands gravely and made a good exit. Not all Ambassadors sit in Embassies, you know.”

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Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie will forever be Jeeves and Wooster for me. There are certainly many oddish references to Wodehouse’s famous creations in this novel.

His next challenge, with some form of special police hot on his tail, is arriving to meet his wealthy American buyer only to greet his mortal remains. Now unscrupulous American buyers for stolen art are not that easy to come by. They are as rare as moments of morality are for Mortdecai. This is a pickle of a different hue. The luscious and lascivious widow proves to be friendly even though she doesn’t imbibe with Mortdecai’s favorite concoction on earth. Is it possible to trust anyone who…?

”’I never drink alcohol. I do not like to blunt my senses.’

‘Goodness’, I babbled, ‘but how awful for you. Not drinking, I mean imagine getting up in the morning knowing that you’re not going to feel any better all day.’

‘But I feel lovely all day, every day. Feel me.’ I spilled quite a lot of my drink.

‘No, really,’ she said, ‘feel.’

I gingerly prodded a golden, rounded forearm.

‘Not there, stupid; here!’ She flipped a button open and two of the most beautiful….”

I’ll leave it to your imagination as to what sprang out of her blouse.

Things go from dire to disastrous, and Mortdecai finds himself on the verge of epic failure without a pot of hot tea or a pint of whiskey anywhere in sight. In fact, Kyril Bonifiglioli leaves our anti-hero in such dreadful straits that I will have to read the next book in the trilogy to see how Mortdecai, even with the survival instincts of a trapped rat, extracts himself from certain extinction.

The interesting thing about this book is that I approached it thinking it would be a breezy affair, a bit of irreverent humor with an adorably unlikeable character that would make for an enjoyable afternoon. What I found was, yes, it is humorous and bawdy, but it is certainly not breezy. I had to pay attention, because the cheeky references and the amusing asides were coming fast and furious. This is a short book by most standards, but it is certainly packed with deftly conceived sentences that sometimes required a second pass to catch the undertow of impertinent meaning.

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Ma’am would you mind stepping a bit closer….Kyril Bonfiglioli

The author’s description of himself lends me to believe that many of Mortdecai’s more salacious personality traits may have been drawn from his own character. He was an art dealer, accomplished fencer, a fair shot with most weapons, and a serial marrier of beautiful women. He claimed to be ‘abstemious in all things except drink, food, tobacco, and talking,’ and ‘loved and respected by all who knew him slightly.’

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