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The Vesuvius Club: A Bit of Fluff

The Vesuvius Club: A Bit of Fluff

4.8 4
by Mark Gatiss

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Meet Lucifer Box: Equal parts James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, with a twist of Monty Python and a dash of Austin Powers, Lucifer has a charming countenance and rapier wit that make him the guest all hostesses must have. And most do.
But few of his conquests know that Lucifer is also His Majesty's most daring secret agent, at home in both London's


Meet Lucifer Box: Equal parts James Bond and Sherlock Holmes, with a twist of Monty Python and a dash of Austin Powers, Lucifer has a charming countenance and rapier wit that make him the guest all hostesses must have. And most do.
But few of his conquests know that Lucifer is also His Majesty's most daring secret agent, at home in both London's Imperial grandeur and in its underworld of despicable vice. So when Britain's most prominent scientists begin turning up dead, there is only one man his country can turn to for help.
Following a dinnertime assassination, Lucifer is dispatched to uncover the whereabouts of missing agent Jocelyn Poop. Along the way he will give art lessons, be attacked by a poisonous centipede, bed a few choice specimens, and travel to Italy on business and pleasure. Aided by his henchwoman Delilah; the beautiful, mysterious, and Dutch Miss Bella Pok; his boss, a dwarf who takes meetings in a lavatory; grizzled vulcanologist Emmanuel Quibble; and the impertinent, delicious, right-hand-boy Charlie Jackpot, Lucifer Box deduces and seduces his way from his elegant townhouse at Number 9 Downing Street (somebody has to live there) to the ruined city of Pompeii, to infiltrate a highly dangerous secret society that may hold the fate of the world in its clawlike grip—the Vesuvius Club.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Darkly erudite and fiendishly unputdownable — Lucifer Box is the most likeable scoundrel since Flashman."
— Jasper Fforde, author of The Big Over Easy and The Eyre Affair

"With its quaint dust jacket and Beardsely-inspired illustrations, the book feels like a visitor from a more elegant era; it has the smell of fin de siecle about it....[Lucifer Box] belongs to a lineage which stretches from Sherlock Holmes to the indestructible James Bond, via the queasy phantasmagoria of Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu stories...But Gatiss is more than a pasticheur; he has ambitions beyond literary ventriloquism. Midway through the story, Box is revealed to be bisexual, and we feel that this is a novel which Doyle, Stevenson, and Rider Haggard would not have been allowed to write. Giddily inventive and packed with delirious incident, it suggests a post-modern project comparable to Michael Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White."
The Times Literary Supplement (London)

"Gatiss mixes in The League of Gentlemen's penchant for horror with large doses of arch wit and louche laying about. It's Oscar Wilde crossed with H.P. Lovecraft....this could be the bit of fluff you've been looking for."
The Telegraph (London)

"It's Gatiss's impeccable lightness of touch and huge delight in wordplay that makes this a joy. Studded with epigrams, asides, such wonderful names as Strangeways Pugg and Everard Supple, this is a wickedly written romp to put a smile on the face of anyone amused by the strange alchemy of the words 'a peculiar horror of artichokes'"
SFX magazine (UK)

"Plenty of sly comic detail (Box lives at Number 9 Downing Street 'because someone has to') and a surrealist narrative that fans of The League of Gentlemen will recognize...kidnapped scientists, poisonous centipedes, foggy chases through London by hackney cab, and a fiendish volcano-based conspiracy that provides the big SFX climax. It's all great fun."
Time Out (London)

"The preposterous Lucifer is an entertaining hero and The Vesuvius Club is a hugely enjoyable romp."
Image magazine (UK)

"Self-deprecatingly subtitled A bit of Fluff...Gatiss' prose is upholstered in a rather superior grade of fluff: redolent of soft leather chairs in fine gentlemen's establishments, and the cracking of whips in the basements beneath them....Set amid the decadent fleshpots of the Edwardian demi-monde, the novel introduces the raffish toast of London society, Lucifer Box, leading portraitist of the age and undercover agent on behalf of His Majesty's government....Box works his way dandyishly through a sequence of adventures which leads him to penetrate a secret Neapolitan crime ring, plus the willing rinfs of several secretive Neapolitans....perniciously addictive piece of escapism."
The Guardian (London)

"Lucifer Box, society darling and spy, investigates the secret Vesuvius Club. Brilliant stuff."
Heat magazine (UK)

"In the appallingly appealing Lucifer Box, Mark Gatiss has created an anti-hero for the ages. Watching the number of chapters, then pages, dwindle, was heart-rending. No one has ever combined the seedy, the stylish, the rumbustious, the raffish, the egregious, the outrageous, the high and the low with such wit and grace."
— Stephen Fry, author of Revenge and The Liar

"Mark Gatiss has brought his customary wit and outlandish style to the page...sharp, witty and shocking."
Derby Evening Telegraph (UK)

Publishers Weekly
British TV producer Mark Gatiss's tongue-in-cheek debut, The Vesuvius Club: A Bit of Fluff, introduces Lucifer Box, an Edwardian assassin/secret agent who finds murder, depravity and plenty of weird adventure in Naples, Italy. While the publisher bills the novel as "part James Bond and part Austin Powers," Box exhibits little of Bond's suavity and sophistication, and the sketchy efforts at erotic humor aren't up to even Austin's low standard. Despite a glowing blurb from Stephen Fry, this is a bit of a clinker. Agent, Caroline Chignell (U.K.). Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Lucifer Box, His Majesty's most daring secret agent, dresses as nattily as James Bond, has the unrestrained ego of Austin Powers, and is as competent as Inspector Clouseau. Always proper and polite, even when terminating his targets, Box has now been called on a special assignment involving the mysterious Vesuvius Club to find out who's murdering the scientists of Edwardian England. Even under the most heinous conditions, Box prides himself on his impeccable grooming and beauty, volunteering that a baroness once told him that she could cut her wrists on his cheekbones. Box's quest for perfection in his clothing leads him to do things of which mere mortals would never dream, such as popping the glass eye out of a victim to secure a sample of a particular shade of green to show his tailor. Full of Edward Gorey-ish humor-think of Box as Gomez Addams's other brother-and a supporting cast of equally bizarre secondary characters, this unexpected, outrageous, morbid, and wickedly funny book will make an entertaining addition to public libraries of all sizes. Gattis, an actor who played not one but several characters in the BBC television production of The League of Gentlemen, is currently working on a movie of the same name. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 6/1/05.]-Shelley Mosley, Glendale Community Coll. Lib., AZ Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A popular Edwardian painter lives a highly satisfying double life as a government agent and assassin. Gatiss, author of four novels based on the Doctor Who television series and a member of the Pythonesque sketch-comedy team League of Gentlemen, presents the droll narrative of Lucifer Box, Number 9 Downing Street, thickly punctuated with barbed bons mots as his life is with recreational sexual encounters. After introducing himself to the reader and knocking off a portrait of Hon. Everard Supple, Lucifer knocks off Supple himself, revealing that he works for His Majesty's Secret Service and that Supple was a dangerous anarchist with violent plans. Then Lucifer's painter friend, Joshua Reynolds ("the dwarf"), also of the Secret Service, informs him of the murders of two prominent scientists in Naples, with more to follow. Meantime, Lucifer's begun taking on private art students to boost his income. The first is Bella Pok (a typical pun), a pert beauty who entrances her teacher. When Neapolitan agent Jocelyn Poop goes missing, Lucifer, who must investigate this case as well as the apparent murder spree, accedes to Bella's coquettish pleas to accompany him. In Naples, Lucifer teams up with breathtaking rent boy Charlie Jackpot and finds the eponymous hedonistic establishment, as well as a haunted estate and a gender-bending surprise, on his way to the solution. Cheeky, decadent fun, from start to finish.

Product Details

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Lucifer Box Series
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5.50(w) x 8.44(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Mr Lucifer Box Entertains

I have always been an appalling judge of character. It is my most beguiling virtue.

What, then, did I make of the Honourable Everard Supple whose likeness I was conjuring on to canvas in my studio that sultry July evening?

He was an imposing cove of sixty-odd, built like a pugilist, who had made a fortune in the diamond mines of the Cape. His declining years, he'd told me during the second sitting - when a client begins to thaw a mite - were to be devoted entirely to pleasure, principally in the gaming houses of the warmer and naughtier parts of Europe. A portrait, in his opinion (and his absence), would be just the thing to hang over the vast baronial fireplace in the vast baronial hall he had recently lavished a hundred thou' upon.

The Supples, it has to be said, were not amongst the oldest and most distinguished families in the realm. Only one generation back from the Honourable Everard had been the less than honourable Gerald who had prospered only tolerably in a manufactory of leather thumb-braces. Son and heir had done rather better for himself and now to add to the title (of sorts) and the fake coat of arms being busily prepared across town he had his new portrait. This, he told me with a wheezy chuckle, would convey the required air of old-world veracity. And if my painting were any good (that hurt), perhaps I might even be interested in knocking up a few carefully aged canvases of his ancestors?

Supple blinked repeatedly, as was his habit, one lid lingering over his jade-irised glass eye (the left one) as I let myself imagine him tramping into the studio in doublet and hose, all in the name of family honour.

He cleared his throat with a grisly expectoration and I realized he'd been addressing me. I snapped out of my reverie and peeped around the side of the canvas. I've been told I peep rather well.

'I do beg your pardon, I was absorbed in the curve of your ear-lobes.'

'I was suggesting dinner, sir,' said Supple, flipping a half-hunter watch from his waistcoat. 'To celebrate the successful conclusion of me picture.'

'I should be delighted,' I lied. 'But I feel it only right to warn you that I have a peculiar horror of artichokes.'

The Honourable Everard Supple rose from the doubtful Louis Quinze into which I'd plonked him, sending a whisper of paint-flakes to the dust-sheeted floor.

'We might try me club, then,' he suggested, brushing the sleeve of his frock-coat. 'Or do you have somewhere you artistic-types favour?'

I rose and ran one of my long, bony hands through my hair. They are long, white and bony, I cannot deny it, but very fine. Waistcoat and face flecked with paint, I shrugged.

'As a matter of fact, I do,' I said. 'Charming little spot in Rosebery Avenue. Come back at eight and we'll drive over.' So saying, I suddenly turned the easel on its squeaking castors, revealing the portrait to the golden light washing through the skylight. 'Behold! Your immortality!'

Supple creaked forward on his expensive boots and fixed a monocle, rather unnecessarily, into the orbit of his false eye. He frowned, cocked his head to left and right and grimaced.

'Well, I suppose you get what you pay for, eh, Mr Box?'

My name is Lucifer Box, but I imagine you know that. Whether these scribblings eventually form the core of my memoirs or are found secreted in oilskin wrappers at the bottom of a lavatory cistern years after my demise, I have no doubt that, by the time you read this, I will be most terribly famous.

I handed Supple his soft kid-gloves with as much brusqueness as I could muster. 'You don't like it?'

The old fool shrugged. 'Just not sure it's terribly like me.'

I helped him into his overcoat. 'On the contrary, sir, I believe I have caught you.'

I smiled what my friends call, naturally enough, the smile of Lucifer.

Ah! London in the summertime! Hellish, as any resident will tell you. Even in those first few innocent years of the new century it smelled of roasting excrement. So it was with 'kerchiefs pressed to mouths that Supple and I entered the dining rooms I had selected. They were alarmingly unfashionable but, in the long light of dusk, the white-panelled plainness could have been called Vermeeresque. Not by me, you understand. A flypaper above the hearth twisted lazily, amber and black like a screw of ear-wax.

This place, I told Supple, was owned and run by a woman called Delilah whose crippled daughter I had once painted as a favour.

'She was not, perhaps, the bonniest thing,' I confided as we settled down to eat. 'Lost both hands to a wasting disease and had them replaced with wooden ones. And - oh! - her little legs were in horrid iron rings.' I shook my head despairingly. 'Ought to have been exposed at birth, her father said.'

'Nay!' cried Supple.

'Aye! But her dear mother loved the little mite. When I came to paint the portrait I did my best to make little Ida look like an angel. Prophetically enough. Though it turned out she had some pluck.'

Supple wiped soup from his pinkish lips. Sentimental old Victorian that he was, a tear sprang to his one good eye. Most probably the Death of Little Nell had been like mother's milk to him.

'Poor Ida,' I sighed, picking idly at a chicken leg. 'Grabbed from her bath-chair by a gang of dacoits and sold into bondage.'

Supple shook his head mournfully. No doubt an image of the doe-eyed cripple had flashed into his silly old brain. His fingers tightened on the fish-knife. 'Go on. What happened?'

'She made a bolt for it, God bless her,' I continued. 'Took off across the rooftops with the fiends in hot pursuit.'

Blink-blink. The jade glass eye regarded me steadily. 'And then?'

I closed my eyes and steepled my fingers. 'She got as far as Wapping before her brittle little legs gave out. She fell through the roof of a sugar merchant's and into a vat of treacle. Of course, with those wooden hands she could get no purchase on the rim and she drowned. Very, very slowly.'

Drinking the last of an indifferent burgundy with an air of finality, I clapped my hands and turned the conversation towards more cheerful matters. Now I had Supple's trust, it was time to betray that of others. I wanted the practice.

I regaled Supple with what I know to be an inexhaustible supply of anecdotes (not many of them true, certainly not the best ones) concerning the greatish and goodish who have paid yours truly not nearly enough to be immortalized in oils.

'You are very indiscreet, sir,' laughed the old man, cheering up. 'I am glad not to have confided any of my secrets in you!'

I smiled my wide smile.

Supple, for his part, talked at length about his time in South Africa and the great adventure a young man like me might have there. He told me about his own daughter - a great joy to the old man by his account - and I nodded and smiled with the air of sagacity I like to assume for such occasions. I put on a good show of being fascinated by his colourful account of dawn over the Transvaal as I took out my watch and stared at the second hand racing over the porcelain dial. I could hear the soft action of the tiny spring.

It was midway between the fish course and the pudding, as Supple opened his mouth to begin another interminable tale, that I did the decent thing and shot him.

A stain spread across the breast of his stiff white waistcoat like poppy petals emerging through the snow. How I wish I'd had my sketch-book with me! The scene was a riot of crimson possibilities.

There, now. I've shocked you, haven't I? What the deuce can Mr Box be up to? Are customers in such abundant supply? Well, you'll just have to be patient. All good things et cetera.

Supple's face, never particularly smashing as you may have gathered, froze in an expression of pained surprise and a little bubble of red spit frolicked over his lips. He slid forward on to the table where his teeth met the rim of his pudding bowl with a shocking crack, like the knees of an out-of-practice supplicant.

I watched smoke curl from the end of the snub-barrelled pistol I'd used, then replaced the weapon under a jelly mould - silver and shaped like a sleeping hare - where it had been until recently ensconced.

Lighting a cigarette, I re-pocketed my watch and, rising, dabbed a napkin at the corners of my full-lipped mouth (it's a very pretty mouth - more of it later). Taking up a dessert spoon, I dug it into Supple's left socket and carefully removed the old fellow's glass eye. It popped out with just a little poking and lay nestled in my palm like a gull's egg. I looked at the iris and smiled. It was just the shade of green I had in mind for a new tie and now I had a match for my tailor. What a happy accident! I slipped the eye into my waistcoat and draped the napkin carelessly over the dead man's head.

A large and ugly mirror hung over the fireplace of the dark little room. I checked my appearance in it (very acceptable), adjusting my stance to avoid the mottled edges of the glass, which tended to obscure the wonderful cut of my best tail-coat and pulled the tatty bell-rope that hung close by.

The doors were opened almost at once by a huge woman in a daffodil-coloured frock. Her gin-flushed cheeks, abutting a long, blotchy nose gave her face the appearance of bruised knackers in a harness.

'Good evening, Delilah,' I said, with just the slightest turn from the mirror.

'Hevening, sir,' said the drudge. She shuffled a little awkwardly, glanced at the table and cleared her throat.

'Heverything in horder, sir?'

I turned, cigarette between teeth, adjusting my white tie with both hands.

'Hmm? Oh yes. The burgundy was deadly and the partridge a trifle high. Other than that a most satisfactory evening.'

Delilah nodded her massive head. 'And the hother gentleman, sir?'

'Will be leaving us now, thank you.'

Delilah thrust both mitt-like hands under the armpits of the Honourable Everard Supple and dragged the one-eyed corpse with apparent effortlessness towards the doors. I hopped athletically over the dead man's legs, sweeping up my cloak and topper from a chair.

'How's little Ida?' I asked, clapping the hat to my head.

'Very good, thankyou for hasking, sir. No doubt be seeing you soon, sir,' grunted Delilah.

'No doubt,' I replied. 'Ta, ta.'

I stepped over the threshold of the mean little dwelling and out into the sultry evening. Thinking I deserved a little treat, I hailed a hansom.

'The Pomegranate Rooms,' I said to the driver. Work was over for the moment. Time to play.

Twenty minutes later, I was dropped a short distance from said night-spot and made my way towards its mouldering wedding-cake facade. The slattern on the door opened it a crack and treated me to a quick view of her form. Poured carelessly into a garish oriental gown she had the look of a pox-ravaged sultana - both the potentess and the dried fruit.

I slipped through the grimy doorway.

'Any riff-raff in tonight, my sweet?' I enquired.

'Plenty,' she gurgled, taking my hat and cloak as persons on doors are wont to do.


The Pomegranate Rooms were small, sweltering and poorly lit by gas sconces stained tobacco-yellow, lending the whole a colour not unlike the bitter pith of the titular fruit. Rickety wooden tables littered the crimson carpets; spilled champagne formed great fizzing puddles in every shadowed corner. Each table was occupied by rather more patrons than was good for it; the majority of the sweating men in evening dress, or the remains of it, with a quantity of backless white waistcoats slung over the chairs; the women, and there were many of them, less respectably dressed, some scarcely dressed at all. It was all quite ghastly and I was very fond of it.

Such establishments erupt on to the bloated body of the capital with the unerring regularity of a clap-rash but the Pomegranate Rooms were something of a special case. A hangover from the fever-dream that had been the Naughty Nineties, I had once, within its stuffy, cigar-fume-drenched walls, espied our present monarch being 'attended to' by a French noblewoman of uncertain virtue.

I dropped into a chair at the only free table and ordered up some plonk. A fat bawd close by, rouged like an ingenue undertaker's first case, began at once to make eyes at me. I examined my nails until she lost interest. I cannot abide the obese and in a whore it is surely tantamount to unprofessionalism. Her chums were not much better.

I ate something to take away the taste of the champagne and then smoked a cigarette to take away the taste of the food. I tried not to make it too obvious that I was on my lonesome. It is a terrible thing to dine alone. One stinks of desperation.

With as much nonchalance as I could affect, I examined the play of the light on my champagne glass whilst surreptitiously sneaking looks at the patrons in the hope of spotting something pretty.

And then, without any ado whatsoever, a young woman glided into the seat opposite me. In a white satin dress with pearls at her throat and rather gorgeous blonde hair piled high she looked like one of Sargent's slightly elongated females. I felt a stir down below that could have been the beginnings of indigestion but probably had more to do with the way her dewy eyes were fixed on me.

I lifted the plonk bottle and my eyebrows enquiringly.

'You're rather out of place here, my dear,' I said, as I poured her a glass. 'I should say the Pomegranate Rooms rarely see the likes of you.'

She inclined her head slightly. 'Got any fags?'

A little taken aback, I nodded and took out my cigarette case. It is flat and well-polished with my initials in Gothic script upon it, yet it has never been called upon to save my life by absorbing the impact of a bullet. That's what servants are for.

'Armenian or Georgian?' I enquired.

She took out one of the long black specimens that cram the case's right-hand side and struck a match off the heel of her elegant shoe, lighting the cigarette in one rapid movement.

Her brazen behaviour delighted me.

'Lor, I was dying for that,' said the vision, taking in great gulps of smoke. 'Mind if I take one for later?'

I waved a hand. 'Be my guest.'

She scooped up a dozen or so cigarettes and stuffed them inside her corset.

'You're full of surprises,' I managed.

'Ain't I, though?' She laughed and gave a hoarse cough. 'You on your own?'

My performance had been penetrated. I poured myself another drink. 'Alas.'

She looked me up and down with what I can only describe as sauciness. 'That's a shame. You're a looker.'

I could not deny it.

'I like a tall gent,' she continued. 'You a foreigner?'

I ran a hand through my long black hair. 'My complexion owes much to my Franco-Slavic mama and little to my British papa. My waist is all my own work.'

'Hm. They must've been proud of having such a bonny babe.'

'A baroness once told me that she could cut her wrists on my cheek-bones.'

'Lot of girls died for you have they?'

'Only those who cannot live for me.'

She rested her chin on a gloved hand. 'You got cold eyes, though. Blue as poison-bottles.'

'Really, you must desist or I shall consider running away with myself.' I placed my hand on hers. 'What's your name?'

She shook her head, blowing out a cloud of smoke and smiling. 'I don't like mine. I'd much rather hear yours.'

I fiddled lightly with my cuff-link. 'Gabriel,' I said, adopting one of my noms de guerre. 'Gabriel Ratchitt.'

The nameless lovely took this in. 'That's an angel's name.'

'I know, my dear,' came my murmur. 'And I fear I may be falling.'

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Gatiss

Meet the Author

Mark Gatiss writes for the multiaward-winning British television comedy The League of Gentlemen, on which he portrays a debt collector, a cursed veterinarian, a dog cinema owner who has recently branched out into VHS and DVD rentals, and a Knight Rider fan, among many other characters. He also stars in the feature film The League of Gentlemen's Apocalypse and has written episodes for the rejuvenated Doctor Who television series. He lives in a laboratory with a stuffed cat.

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Vesuvius Club: A Bit of Fluff 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
RickyTickles More than 1 year ago
**SPOILERS PRESENT** The heading here says it all. Lucifer Box is sharp, cocky, witty, narcissistic, but above all he's charming and endearing. Lucifer's attitude towards life is: why be a secret service agent if you can't enjoy all the perks? This includes shagging renters in alleyways, having a personal valet to attend to his needs (though his valet and a bullet seemed to have a disagreement. The bullet won), dapper clothes, and still having enough spare time to teach lucious women (one hopes) how to draw. Because beyond the daring mysterious secret agent is an artist yearning to thrive. While the book itself takes us on many twists and turns, it's the nature of the twists that make one's jaw hit one's lap with a smile. Each twist is either one of dark murderous intrigue that appear at first glance to be far too outlandish but quickly sucks you in, or dirty naughty wickedness, which likewise sucks you in. Through it all, Lucifer has an attitude of nonchalant class and mystique that no one (including the readers) can resist. For me this book is delightful and seductive from the first chapter. A fair warning, though. This book shouldn't be read by anyone lacking a sense of humor, or an open mind, because the surprises that Lucifer delivers are shocking and sinful. However all others should stop what their doing and order this immediately. It's great for a laugh and a wicked knowing chuckle.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Absolutely hilarous, fast moving, and well written. You may not love the main character, but he'll keep you entertained! It's a good read for a vacation.
harstan More than 1 year ago
At the turn of the twentieth century in London, England, artist Lucifer Box is a renowned rake who also utilizes all his personas as a spy in his majesty¿s service, blackmailed by the family lawyer into assassinating England¿s enemies, a job he performs quite well. After debriefing his handler in a public bathroom he is asked to investigate the death of Jocelyn Poop, a diplomat in Naples who spies for England.................. Poop sent a wire before his death mentioning two scientists studying volcanic activity, dying within days of each other in what looks like natural causes but the coincidence of these deaths so close is very suspicious. The funeral parlor that performed the burial is based in England and Naples. Lucifer visits and opens the coffin of one of the scientists but the body is gone. The other scientist¿s body is also missing. Believing the answer is in Naples, Lucifer travels there only to encounter THE VESUVIUS CLUB a secret organization that plans to destroy that part of the world unless Lucifer can kill the leaders and stop the ticking time bomb....................... This is a tongue in cheek version of James Bond only more earthy, decedent and reminiscent of the last depraved days of the Roman Empire. The protagonist is a very naughty man who is a hedonist at heart and gets his jollies from knowing he is one of the saviors of the British Empire. This is not a book to be taken seriously but a work to be enjoyed for its earthly humor, fun characters, and fine setting............. Harriet Klausner