The Vesuvius Club: A Bit of Fluff (Lucifer Box Novels)
Last night after a nice dinner at Bahama Breeze, my husband David and I decided to stop off at the nearby bookstore for a relaxing browse. After trolling the shelves, I ended up with two books, this one and a murder mystery set in the Upper Midwest. I’ve already finished this book, and I’ve started the second book – and glad of it.
The book was published in 2004, to critical acclaim, and there are two more books in the series.Â Mark Gatiss, the author, has an impressive body of work already as a TV and radio actor and writer, and wrote two of the “New Doctor Who” episodes and appeared in a third as “Doctor Lazarus.” The book attracted me because the cover art told me it was going to be a witty romp in the Edwardian era before I even read the blurb immediately under the author’s name. It says “Darkly erudite and fiendishly unputdownable–Lucifer Box is the most likeable scoundrel since Flashman.
Ugh. Flashman. I’m not linking to the first book in that series.
I was introduced to it by a fan of the novel who fancied himself to be a real-life Harry Paget Flashman; his hero was a fictional cad, soundrel, coward, and rapist. This fan was someone I dated briefly decades ago, who liked to dress up in historical costumes and flounce about the countryside re-enacting bits of the Civil War, leading imaginary piratical incursions, and wearing Scottish drag. He was most vain man, with the least reason for it, I’ve ever met.
Pause to shudder and grimace. Pause over.
So a recommendation comparing this novel favorably to “Flashman” should have lit up a big, red warning sign, but it promised to be witty, and so I went ahead and started it. Finished it, too.
Sure, it’s a quick, fast read. But I can’t really recommend this book – the protagonist is an insufferable twit, even if he makes me laugh fairly often. It’s a guilty laugh, because he says and does a number of unforgiveable things. Also, the author makes Box so much larger than life that all other characters appear merely to serve as foils for Box to show off.
The most regrettable thing about Lucifer Box is that he appears to be a clever, well-written, and sexually omnivorous Mary Sue.
Mary Sue is any original or deeply altered character who represents a slice of his/her creator’s own ego; s/he is treasured by his/her creator but only rarely by anyone else. More negatively, a Mary Sue is a primadonna (usually but not always badly-written) who saps life and realism out of every other character around, taking over the plot and bending canon to serve his/her selfish purposes. — Mary Sue: An Explanation
The author draws a little too deeply from the classical Whovian Well of Cybermen, too. It’s a nice, deep well, and this book would be a good basis for a Captain Jack Harkness flashback with plenty of camp and period costume and steampunkery, but the other characters in the book are given such short shrift (and the main character uses them so shabbily) that they’d have to be completely re-written to “work.”
Yes, I chuckled as I read, but I also shook my head.
I knew which character would turn out to betray Lucifer Box in the end – it was a little too obvious almost from the moment of introduction. I even knew which prop would turn out to be a plot device, because with as unsentimental a scalliwag as Box is written to be, it was out of character for him to haul a bit of tat with him on a long journey because it reminded him of someone. I also knew that somebody watched a few too many James Bond movies in his youth – there were no frickin’ sharks with frickin’ laser beams on their heads, but only from the lack of liquid water at the evil genius’ mountain lair. Everything else was in place, though. Including a thing like an infernal gumball machine, undead purple-brained zombies, and a madman’s plan to destroy the Earth (while wearing an outrageous costume).
The sex scenes (and there are fewer than you might expect) are depicted in a not-terribly-salacious way, more in the “Aren’t I a naughty boy” vein than anything. Lucifer Box will debauch anything that moves, so long as it’s pretty and slim. He spends a lot of time in late Victorian lavs, and there seem to be a lot of dwarfs about. About the only thing that he mourns is his wardrobe, as it gets destroyed in every set-to with the bad guys. He hardly spares a thought for a minion who gets shot, assuming idly that it was fatal, until he’s somewhat surprised to find it was not.
Not a nice man, Lucifer Box. Destined to have and deserve a bad end. Unfortunately, based on the descriptions of the next two books, he’s destined to be immortal in some way – another classic Mary Sue touch. Not recommending this one.