* Prices may differ from that shown
if your a fan of the league of gentlemen then you will probably like this book as it is written in the same style, if your not then you may not get the humour. it took me a while to get into the story and i was tempted to give up but once i did i found it quite enjoyable although i did find the end a bit confusing. the book does have a few adult themes, such as language and sexual content, so i would possibly advise against it if your a bit prudish or for younger readers, i think its appropriate for midteens upwards. there are some parts of the book which you really dont see coming or expect which i think does add to the overall story and help to maintain your interest. overall i think the book is an ok read, its nothing special but it does have some entertaining parts and its not to complely written so its quite an easy read. its not something i would be in a hurry to read again but it was ok for filling in some boring train rides. dont go out of your way to buy this
About a month ago I read a review on here that made me want to go out and buy that particular book immediately. That book was "The Vesuvius Club" by Mark Gatiss. When I picked up this book in the book shop, even the endorsement on the front from Stephen Fry made me want to read it immediately: "The most delicious, depraved, inventive, macabre and hilarious literary debut I can think of...More, I want more!"
About the Author & The Story
"The Vesuvius Club" is the first in the series of books on the main character, Lucifer Box. Mark Gatiss the author, although new to the novel writing business, is not a total unknown in show business. Fans of the show "The League of Gentleman" will know him and not only has he acted in this show, but he has dabbled in screenwriting, and (according to Wikipedia) is one of only three people to have both written for and acted in "Doctor Who".
So, on to Lucifer Box and his wonderfully absurd story. Lucifer, to most of the Edwardian society in which this story is set, is a painter, albeit one who loves men and women alike ("I am not adverse to a pretty face and a pretty rump, whether they be man's or woman's") but his secret life sees him as a secret agent, an assassin - much like James Bond, he is hired to kill for HMG - minus the fancy gadgets but plus much more wit, naughtiness and intelligence!
This brings us to his latest assignment. Box is told of the murder of a member of the diplomatic service, a gentleman called Jocelyn Poop. The plot is thickened dramatically when two prominent scientists die shortly afterwards which leads Box and his boss to connect the dots. Before Box is dispatched to Naples to get to the bottom of the mystery, things become more complicated when he falls in "lust" with a beautiful Dutch woman called Bella Pok and when his friend Christopher Miracle is arrested for the murder of one of his students, Mrs Midsomer Knight. It soon becomes apparent that Mrs Midsomer Knight bears a close connection to murder mystery at hand, and Lucifer Box is determined to get to the bottom of it. With the help of Charlie, a servant in the home of one of the scientists in Naples, he plans to clear his friends name and solve the mystery of Poops death. Things get much more complicated along the way - coach chases through a misty graveyard in the dead of night in London, strange poisonous and deadly creatures being posted to Lucifer mean that someone is out to get him too.
Set in Edwardian England and Naples, Lucifer tells his story directly with the reader, sharing jokes and confiding in us as if the reader were a friend. His voice has such dry wit and confidence it is hard not to be drawn to him.
Nearly always cheerful (or at least retaining his brilliant humour!) Lucifer Box is well liked by both the underworld and high society and always ready with a quick put down or a clever piece of flattery, he confidently tells his readers that one day - even if it is after his death - he will be well known.
Lucifer is extremely loveable, going from one extreme to the next - from assassin to loveable rogue and gentleman that you are never bored of his tales of debauchery. He seems so ahead of his time, accepting of all the people he comes across (almost!). Even his vanity in his own appearance just made me smile!
Equally, the other characters in this story just leapt off the page for me. Along with their colourful and unforgettable names (Miracle, Pok, Poop, Jackpot, Punch...how can you forget names like this?!) these characters are as lively as Lucifer himself. I particularly liked Charlie Jackpot, he made a great sidekick to Lucifer, where Lucifer is sharp and cutting, Charlie is softer but just as smart in many ways. The sexual tension also added much to the story, and I look forward to seeing their adventures in the next books.
As you can imagine from what I have said already, Gatiss' writing is just perfect. He strikes the perfect tone for Edwardian England, extremely decadent, witty (just what I expected from such a writer and actor) a spark of the absurd in the story and extremely funny and entertaining. The personal touches of Lucifer speaking to the reader just really tipped it for me. I could hardly put it down.
The story IS completely ridiculous - think bizarre Hollywood action movie where the villain is set to blow up the world with some ridiculous plan and you might have an idea - but it's hard to knock it for that. The characters and writing is so enjoyable that the ridiculous plot (which, by the way, I am not sure I completely followed for half of the story) doesn't really seem to matter. I had such confidence in Lucifer's character that it was just exciting reading and a couple of times I found myself laughing out loud.
I have read a couple of reviews which mention the comparisons between Dorian Grey, James Bond and Oscar Wilde and I agree completely -mingling all of the above and the outcome would be Lucifer Box.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, I gave it to my dad to read over Christmas and despite his reservations I caught him smirking at some of it. This is a fairly short read from what I am used to (240 pages) but thoroughly enjoyable - nothing was dragged out but also there was nothing missing or cut short. Most importantly, I am out to by the next instalment and find out what situations Mr Box gets himself in to next!
Imagine an author shredding Oscar Wilde's Dorian Grey and Ian Fleming's James Bond and moulding a new character out of the pulp - let me introduce you to Mark Gatiss and his protagonist Lucifer Box!
Lucifer lives in London, Downing St No 9 ("I know, ostentatious, isn't it? But somebody has to live there.") at the beginning of the twentieth century, he's got fine features and a beautiful body, has exquisite taste, is well behaved in societal circles, defiles maidens, loves men and women (whoever is available), is vain and vicious. ""The fêted artist, the dashing dandy. But by night - philanderer, sodomite and assassin!" As a thumbnail sketch of me that wasn't half bad."" He's a painter to the world at large but really a hired assassin, yet - and here Dorian Grey recedes in the background and James Bond comes to the front - he doesn't commit his deeds for his own pleasure but for his country, he's a secret agent for HMG with the licence to kill.
The secret service agent in Naples has disappeared but not before sending a cryptic message to HQ mentioning the names of two professors who died within two days of each other in London. They belonged to a group of four geologists specialising in volcanology, the 'Cambridge Four', who once worked together in Italy, the third has retired to Italy and lives near Naples, the fourth died some years ago.
Before Lucifer leaves for Italy to look into the matter, his friend Miracle gets arrested for the abduction and possible murder of one of his students of his private art class for bored ladies of the upper class. It turns out that this woman is the widow of the fourth scientist of the aforementioned group. Ah, is there a connection, will Lucifer be able to penetrate the mystery?
In Naples he is accosted by a young man who takes him to the Vesuvius Club, an establishment that shocks even him who thinks that he's seen all in the field of sin and depravity. What follows is a wild chase through the underworld of the city, also in the concrete sense as there's a large cave system (nowadays tourists can visit it on guided tours). He also encounters a megalomaniac madman intent on blowing up the whole of Italy.
You may have gathered by now that 1) the novel is told in the first person by Lucifer himself and 2) that it is a mixture of the refined and the rough. The latter quality is what makes the charm of this novel, to be honest, the story is outrageously silly but it's told in such a funny, tongue-in-cheek way that it's a pleasure to read. Lucifer is not the only unconventional character, in fact it's difficult to find one that is not weird even among the minor supporting ones.
The novel can be read straightforward for what it is, a well-read reader, however, may get some extra pleasure out of the allusions and references. When Lucifer drives a horse-drawn carriage through foggy London in the course of investigation and is then chased across a cemetery by another carriage, Sherlock Holmes' adventures come to mind. I've already mentioned Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde may be seen not as the father, but at least godfather of Lucifer; the fantasy of omnipotence is not only dreamt by James Bond's adversaries, sci-fi heroes encounter it all the time.
Then there are the names, as a counterpoint for his brutal adventures Lucifer has a romantic crush on a woman called Bella Pok, which sounds a bit like 'Belle Epoque' meaning "the pretty era" in French which began during the late 19th century and lasted until World War I including the time in which the novel is set.
And so on and so forth. I can't say that I've got it all, but I'm happy to say that I've got enough to be amused. The site www.luciferbox.com gives a detailed overview of the characters, the quotes, the puns and also a bibliography of titles either mentioned in the novel or used as background information. This may sound odd, who wants to read a thriller which is composed like a literary treatise full of high-brow stuff. But the Vesuvius Club isn't a bumpy read, on the contrary, it flows along smoothly and the reader doesn't experience it as a patchwork from different sources.
Unusual for a thriller are also the illustrations in the style of Aubrey Beardsley scattered throughout the text, they emphasize the fin de siècle atmosphere of the setting.
Not living in GB I don't know anything about the author Mark Gatiss, from the cover I gather that he's famous as one of The League of Gentlemen and that he's written for the Guardian, Radio 4 and the new series of Doctor Who.
The blurb on the front cover is by Stephen Fry, "The most delicious, depraved, inventive, macabre and hilarious literary debut I can think of . . . More, I want more!" Fry didn't have to suffer for long, Lucifer Box 'was born' in 2004, meanwhile two more novels with his adventures have been published, The Devil in Amber and Black Butterfly. Don't be surprised if you find reviews on them here one day. . .
The Vesuvius Cub
RRP 7.99 GBP
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.
Many readers will know Mark Gatiss as one of the people behind the macabre and surreal TV comedy The League of Gentlemen. He is also an avid fan of sci-fi and graphic novels so it is no surprise that his literary debut should be steeped in those traditions.
The Vesuvius Club is the first outing for the Edwardian Artist/Scoundrel/Socialite/Secret agent the aptly named Lucifer Box. Lucifer is a colourful character to say the least. A society painter by profession his other line of work on Her Majestys Secret Service was forced upon him by the threat of having some immoral indiscretions with like minded young men brought in to the public eye at a time where that would mean imprisonment. Persuaded by the spymaster Joshua Reynolds (not The Joshua Reynolds) Box becomes the most adept of British agents and is also now protected when pursuing his more exotic sexual and intellectual appetites.
Lucifer Box is not an upstanding member of polite Edwardian society in fact he is the very thing that many respectable people fear. He has deflowered many an innocent young woman (and man) and has often had to get himself out of some terrible scrapes involving a jealous lover, husband or protective father.
The richness of the character is completed by housing him in N.9 Downing Street (Someone has to live there) and the presence of his redoubtable sidekick and domestic Delilah.
Lucifer Box is asked by his spy contact Reynolds to investigate the strange disappearance of England foremost authorities on Vulcanology (the study of Volcanoes to you and me). Who or what has been targeting these eminent scientists and for what purpose? Things are further complicated when Lucifers best friend and fellow artist Christopher Miracle is arrested for murder. Can Lucifer prove his friend innocent solve the mystery of the missing academics and still have his wicked way with his new student the beautiful Bella.
The novel is populated by weird and unusual characters like the beautiful Miss Bella Pok, Lucifers female love interest or should that be lust interest. The name is a play on the term La Belle Epoch meaning "the pretty era" a period in the late 19th century that was considered by many to be a golden age for culture, art and beauty and Bella seems to embody these virtues. This play with words serves well to illustrate Gatiss wit that permeates through his writing. We also meet Charlie Jackpot a young servant who quickly becomes a new sidekick for Lucifer and much more.
All the character names used in the book are unusual, slightly Dickensian sounding. Inspector Flush, Backlash Kitty, Maxwell Morraine, Midsomer Knight, Lady Constance Tutt-Haffenschafft, Jocelyn Utterson Poop, Major Strangeways Pugg and my favourite Cretaceous Unman. During the course of the adventure that takes us from London to Naples we also meet a variety of sinister Turks, mysterious Italians and enigmatic Orientals as Lucifer progresses his investigation through gothic cemeteries, sewers, steam baths, opium dens and brothels.
Lucifer Box! Hah! Was ever a rascal so well named? You are the devil sir, the very devil!
Just like in the Flashman novel the lead character is a rogue but a charming one nonetheless, the kind of immoral rake that women cant avoid being attracted to and one that men cant fail to grudgingly admire or at least envy. Box is the ultimate libertine, he is androgynous is his sexual appetite and amoral in his use of stimulants and the pursuit of fame and wealth it just happens that (not by choice) he manages to save the Empire from its numerous enemies by his varied array of skills whether this be his prodigious fighting skills or his ability as a cat burglar.
Lucifer Box is a depraved Edwardian version of James Bond and the story has some appropriately fiendish Bond like villains.
Where is your oh-so elegant poise now, Mr Box? he taunted. Filthy and gagged, I was in no position to reply.
The scale of the story also matches the Bond film propositions, the villains hideaway is suitably exotic and the henchmen make tough opponents for Lucifer.
'The Vesuvius Club' is very much a 'visual' story; every sentence evokes a lush picture of the opulence and at the same time the seediness of Edwardian Europe. A fair amount of attention is given on the descriptions of the clothes locations and the inclusion of the illustrations at the beginning of each chapter are a way to lead the reader in to a visual impression of the world that Gatiss is describing.
Mark Gatiss has attempted to create the atmosphere that one normally associates with graphic novels, the larger than life characters, the gaudy illustrations and use of vibrant colour in a written text. It almost works. The downside to this approach is that many of the characters come across as being quite two-dimensional which while not a fatal flaw in this type of fast paced adventure, it does to a slight extent detract from the success of the project. To be honest I had a slight problem with the illustrations, not to their inclusion per se since I thought that was a good idea and it added to the sense of this being a very visual book. The drawings were meant more to set the mood of the story than to illustrate the events but I didnt like the style that was used and I found them a little to abstract and sketchy.
The novel has been very successful and has been nominated in the Waterstones newcomer category. The Vesuvius Club has a lot to be admired and while the style or setting is not totally original for those with an interest in the genre I think Gatiss insistence to camp things up and not to take himself too seriously makes this a enjoyable read. Certainly the dark humour and the immoral irreverent attitudes of the lead character will hit the right buttons with League of Gentlemen fans. The novel is littered with well-crafted passages that serve to eloquently present Lucifer as the flamboyant egotistical dandy that he surely is.
Lighting a cigarette, I re-pocketed my watch and, rising, dabbed a napkin at the corners of my full-lipped mouth (its a very pretty mouth more of that later).
This book is no more than imaginatively well-written fluff but that is not to its detriment in fact it is enjoyable because of its escapism.
Suspend belief, political correctness, and morality and enjoy. Highly recommended!
The Vesuvius Club can be bought from Amazon for £5.59 (+p&p) at the time of this review.
© Mauri 2006