This post was edited and republished into my blog’s original timeline from my lost posts archive
Something Nasty in the Woodshed by Kyril Bonfiglioli
You may remember my enthusiasm for the reprints of the first two wickedly funny and totally non-PC Charlie Mortdecai books by Kyril Bonfiglioli last year; if you don’t, see my write-ups:
I loved them both; the second follows on directly from the first. Originally published in the 1970s, they sent everything up in a Raffles meets James Bond with a Jeeves and Wooster setting, through the adventures of aristo-art dealer Charlie Mortdecai, his
manservant ‘thug’ Jock and Bond-girl type wife Johanna.
It’s such a shame then when the third volume in the original trilogy falls flat. That’s not to say that the third book wasn’t enjoyable – there were plenty of good jokes in it, but the action took two-thirds of the book to really get going – and in a 168 page novel, when it did happen, it was all quite rushed. The humour is also distinctly of its time, and some of it was rather distasteful. I’ll set the scene a little.
Charlie Mortdecai is sojourning on the island of Jersey, out of the way of those authorities on the British mainland that would otherwise be taking an interest in his affairs. He has rented a house and made friends with his two neighbours and their wives:
is called Sonia, although her women-friends say that the name on her birth-certificate was probably Ruby… She is a slut and a bitch, every woman can tell this at a glance, so can most homosexuals. … Under a shellac-layer of cultivation and coffee-table books her manners and morals are those of a skilled whore who has succeeded in retiring early and now dedicates her craft to personal pleasure alone. She is very good at it indeed. I dare say.
Charlie, who as always narrates, takes the twenty pages of the first chapter to tell us about Jersey, his new friends, their wives, and the quaint system of policing on the island then. It is chapter two before anything happens, and when it does, it is rather nasty. Sonia is raped by a ‘beast’. The morning after, Charlie seems to be the last to know, Johanna tells him:
‘Course you know you won’t catch him, don’t you?’
‘The bloke who rogered Mrs Breakspear, of course. Silly bugger, he only had to say please, didn’t he?’
Oh dear… Soon Violet, wife of his other neighbour Sam, is similarly raped. Whereas Sonia takes it in her stride, so to speak, Violet is completely traumatised by the experience and is hospitalized. There are intimations of a satanic connection. Fearing that Johanna will be next – although Charlie knows she can look after herself – the three men and Jock set out to investigate and patrol the parish at night. They liaise with the local Centennier (volunteer Parish policeman) to find out about the local sex-maniacs. Charlie is telling Johanna about them:
‘And in St John’s,’ I ended, ‘there’s a well-respected man who does it with calves: what do you say to that?’
She rolled over onto all fours, her delightful bottom coquettishly raised.
‘Mooo?’ she asked hopefully.
‘Oh, very well.’
Oh dear, again!
It then all gets very Bergerac meets Dennis Wheatley, and involves breaking into La Hougue Bie (right) and carrying out a Satanic mass in the de-consecrated half of the (still working) chapel on top which doesn’t end well. Afterwards, Charlie mopes around the house:
Nothing else of any note happened that day except the exquisite curry, throughout which I played records of Wagner: he goes beautifully with curry, the only use I’ve ever found for him.
Everything is eventually resolved, but it did leave a slightly nasty taste in the mouth this time. Lacking the cat and mouse antics of Charlie vs Inspector Martland of the first books, and with the violence being directed at women and seemingly unconnected people, it certainly wasn’t as much fun, despite the jokes and that was a shame.
Those amongst you familiar with Stella Gibbons will recognise that the title comes from the pronouncements of the aged Ada Doom in Cold Comfort Farm. This volume of the Mortdecai books was definitely the nastiest so far, but having all five on the shelves I am hoping that the comedy will pick up again in the fourth. (6.5/10)
Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Don’t Point That Thing at me: The First Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 1)
After you with the pistol: The Second Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 2)
Something Nasty in the Woodshed: The Third Charlie Mortdecai Novel (Mortdecai Trilogy 3)
All by Kyril Bonfiglioli, Penguin paperbacks – around 200 pages.