I know I am chancing my arm reviewing this book on a crime fiction blog. Detective novel purists will of course need to leave this point or continue reading at their own risk. Crime fiction is a broad umbrella term which heads cleverer than mine often debate as to its meaning and what it includes and doesn’t include. Tales of espionage however are usually allocated a space in the genre and it is by this clause that I dare to talk about this book today. However if you’re expecting an espionage thriller in the vein of John Le Carré or the like then again you may wish to vacate the premises. (Can’t say I haven’t warned people!)
Yet for the 5 people, (ambitious figure I know!), who have remained to read the rest of this review, welcome! I’ve been a fan of P. G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster for many years now and loved Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie’s definitive adaptation of this pair. So it was a given that this book would quickly rise to the top of my TBR pile, (that and a temporary case of shiny new book syndrome). It is also another given that you’ll get the most out of this book if you’ve read some of the originals, though I would be interested to hear from anyone who has tried this book from a blank slate position, (figuratively speaking).
So where is this espionage which is not very espionage-like? Well things begin enigmatically with Jeeves requesting the evening off to visit his old employer, Lord MacAuslan. But why? A few chapters later the answer is revealed when Wooster’s assistance is required by, shall we say, an unusual branch of the British Intelligence, who wish to take a closer look at the figures behind and involved in, Roderick Spode’s fascist group the Black Shorts. If you’ve read any of the original stories then you, along with Wooster, will be wondering how much danger Spode can pose. After all ‘he was an enemy of good taste, good manners, and good tailoring […] But hang it all, Roderick Spode was an obvious buffoon.’ You might also be thinking that Wooster is the last person you’d expect to be suitable for spy work. This thought undoubtedly gets fed as chapter after chapter sees Wooster overwhelmed with additional favours and requests that his friends, relatives and ex-fiancées burden him with. Pickles big and small inevitably ensue and it only remains to be seen whether Jeeves and Wooster can bring it all off.
Delivering the goods with a continuation novel is no easy task and I dabble in such works very minimally as a consequence. Yet I am very glad my dabbling led me to this one as Schott does a first rate job of capturing Wooster’s tone and voice, which is essential in a novel which is narrated by him. This emulation continues into the rest of Wooster’s world in terms of the setting, additional characters, the relationship between Wooster and Jeeves, as well as the way the plot is built up: i.e. a layering of requests that are asked of Wooster and which often have to be achieved simultaneously with one another. Wooster is frequently regarded as lacking in the brain department and compared to Jeeves, who wouldn’t suffer in the comparison? But this book has reminded me how relative intelligence is, as when it comes to other characters Wooster encounters he is an Einstein and definitely not one for bureaucratic nonsense.
The spy/espionage element is very cleverly introduced into the world Wodehouse originally placed Wooster in and it is very in keeping with the original characters, as is what is expected of Wooster. I’m afraid there is no shoot out or enigmatic conversations in cafes. Equally all of this espionage work must play second fiddle to resolving his Aunt’s own household dilemmas and attempt at industrial espionage. Whilst we don’t have noir femme fatales, the female is still the most deadly of the species in this story with Wooster doing his best to avoid becoming engaged, in such a way that nobody is offended. I love how after one woman says, ‘I know things, Bertie,’ Wooster follows this up with this description: ‘she menaced, like an aunt in a dark alley.’ This should probably tell you a lot about how the espionage element works out in this book and in some ways an aunt being the deadliest thing to find in a darkened alleyway, is almost a parody of noir/thriller fiction.
The ending has a number of pleasing flourishes and a nice nod towards Golden Age detective fiction. My only criticism of this book is that the final pages needed a little more zip. But this is only a minor complaint.
Not quite convinced to give this book a go, here are a few more reasons…
5 Reasons to Leap Into and Love the World of Jeeves and Wooster
1.Wooster is the King of Put Downs
Whilst Wooster is usually polite and socially correct in conversation he has his moments where the gloves are off and he lets you know what he really thinks about people. For instance an early description of Spode is that he ‘is a sore for sighted eye. It’s as if evolution took a wrong turn, got stuck in a cul-de-sac, and just threw in the sponge.’ I also love this way he has with disagreeing with a young lady, but in such a way she doesn’t realise he has disagreed. When another man has left she says to Wooster, ‘What a fascinating man’ to which Wooster has the brilliant come back of: ‘That’s one school of thought, though not a very well-attended school.’ N.B. I really want to use this last one in conversation now.
2.Wooster has a knack for describing others
Not all of Wooster’s description are derogatory, though they often still yield a lot of comedy, so I decided to collect a few of favourites:
‘…he had an accent fruity enough to spread on a muffin.’
‘She rose from the table with the cumbersome majesty of an unmoored Zeppelin.’
‘I left Aunt Dahlia’s dark satanic mill (a.k.a. the potting shed), in something of a daze, the victim of oxygen starvation, capsicum poisoning, and what I believe sea-divers call the staggers.’
‘I glanced at Tibby, whose social smile was melting from Mona Lisa ambiguity into what Jeeves once informed was the ‘existential anguish of Edvard Munch’s Scream’.
3.For the ‘ahhhhhhh’ sigh experience
From the opening pages I immediately found this book to be one of those reading experiences which can only be likened to that moment when you first sit in a nice warm bath and go ‘ahhhhhhh’. And a book which makes me go ‘ahhhhh’ and not in the ‘ahhhhh’ eureka sort of way is exactly what I needed.
4.Wooster’s aristocratic world
One of the hugely enjoyable aspects of this book, and the originals for that matter, is the almost exotic-ness or novelty of Wooster’s daily life, the people he encounters and the activities he participates in. His trip to the tailors more than justifies the purchase of this book and wannabe spies will also appreciate his brief guide on the three ways to hide behind a sofa. In some ways Wooster’s world feels a million miles away from our own, (and in a good way). I couldn’t help but chuckle when one of Wooster’s friends from the Drones club, mentions that he takes taxis to go to his job of doing the washing up at a pub. After all, ‘the Tube is fearful, especially in the crush.’ Yet some elements of Wooster’s world do strike a chord with our current Brexit climate, with Spode’s rhetoric or Hogg’s diatribe on blue passports taking on an additional emphasis.
5.Be Our Guest
If you need a dead body on the carpet by chapter two or a high powered action fight scene in every alternate chapter then yes this book will be torture for you. But for those who enjoy the slower pace of a many coursed gourmet meal then this is definitely the book for you. Regular readers of the blog will know that I am no fan of mysteries which take forever to get to the point or have too many tangents, yet I was completely engrossed by this book’s taking-its-time-to-get-to-the-point prose and plot. This is a good sign of how well Schott has replicated Wooster’s narrative voice.
So as my final rating suggests this was a great read and definitely what I needed and maybe it might be what you need to read as well.