This is technically a re-read. I read The Vesuvius Club for the first time a couple of years ago… but never got around to reading the rest of the Lucifer Box series (sadly only a trilogy, at the moment). Then, while I was in London, I saw that they had a nifty box set in the 3-for-2 area… so actually it was like 5-for-2 and I couldn’t pass that up.
The book is fun, but not all that amazing. Box is a great character – a bit of Oscar Wilde, a bit of James Bond. The vaguely steampunk-y nature of this book was done to much greater effect in the Newbury & Hobbes series (admittedly set some fifteen or so years earlier… as Victoria is “still alive” in those books) and the plotting, as twisty as it is, never feels entirely grounded. The novel is a bit of a pastiche of Fleming’s Bond novels but it never quite gets that same level of intensity that even the worst of Fleming’s 14 books achieved. There’s just something a little juvenile about it, something not-quite-there. The twist at the end is a good one – but it wasn’t shocking. It was a twist and it was a surprise but I didn’t really care all that much.
The book, as I said earlier, IS a lot of fun, though. Box’s narration has just the right amount of to-the-audience asides and his depravity is handled in a fun way (instead of, you know, the gross way). The plot is predictably madcap-villain-going-to-end-the-world and the locations (really only London and Italy) are well-painted. The supporting cast is interesting enough – I want to hate Charlie Jackpot but I can’t quite bring myself to. The final scene, like in so many Bond-esque films/stories, brings danger back to our hero just when we thought the coast had cleared… and that scene was perhaps the most interesting in the novel. It just had a reality to it that was different from most of the rest of the book.
Rating: 3 out of 5. I’m looking forward to reading the other two Box books. I like the fact that he (well, Mark Gatiss) drops references to other cases – I do wish the series was more of a series and that it was less pastiche/homage and more its own entity. Still, its hard not to enjoy a book like this for what it is – a pleasant diversion and one that fades mostly quickly (except for its dashing leading man).