Finally, a book in this series that I’m actually excited about. Which is not to say that Mortdecai is flawless, but rather that movie people don’t choose very interesting source material most of the time. Let’s get into some pompous mystery satire, shall we?
The Book: The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery by Kyril Bonfiglioli (completed after his death by Craig Brown)
Genre: Mystery satire
First impressions: Man, Mortdecai is full of it in all the best possible ways. This is the fourth book in a series of mysteries that follow the Mortdecai men down through the generations, solving mysteries and getting super drunk and being incredibly pompous about it. This particular novel focuses on Charlie Mortdecai, an ex-art-dealer turned aristocrat with a hot wife and a young moustache of which he is endlessly proud. Charlie is called to Oxford to solve a mystery, a plot that is almost entirely incidental to the story, which is mostly just about Charlie drinking and judging people.
The thing that sells this book for me is also the thing most likely to put people off, and that’s the prose. Personally, I enjoyed the Douglas Adams-esque tangents and off-kilter metaphors, which often completely lose sight of the plot. I would not be surprised, however, if somebody threw this book across the room five pages in for making no goddamn sense, because the prose is dense as fuck and doesn’t give a shit if you understand it or not. For example, I present the first paragraph of the second chapter:
“Back at the Mortdecai half-mansion in the North of the Island – sorry, I thought you knew I lived in Jersey, Channel Islands – I was convalescing splendidly, mounted on cushionry of the finest and downiest, kneading Pomade Hongroise into the fruiting vineyard of my upper lip and applying a little Cognac internally, when the door flew open and a radiant Johanna (to wit, my wife) burst into the room and sprang rapturously into my arms, uttering many a glad cry – only to recoil instantly, giving bent to one of those shrieks which only the gently-nurtured can command and then only when they find their mouths full of well-pomaded moustache. I have never quite known what the world ‘eldritch’ means but there is no reasonable doubt in my mind that eldritch is what that shriek was. No Sabine woman would have got into the quarter-finals that afternoon.”
See what I mean? You either find this kind of prose entertaining or it makes you want to re-kill the already-dead author. Mortdecai is in no way a perfect novel (the sexism runs rampant), but it is intensely entertaining and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it, even when I had to re-read a paragraph just to figure out what the hell it was talking about. Also there’s a weird Russian terrorism side-plot that never really goes anywhere or gets resolved, but frankly I forgive it on account of all the haughty snarking.
Will it adapt?: Oh my god, yes. This movie is going to be fantastic. Did you know that Johnny Depp is playing Mortdecai? This role was practically designed for him. Charlie is pompous and strange, constantly talks in circles, and he’s actually Depp’s age so you won’t get that creepy vibe where you’re not sure if he’s suppose to be a teen heart-throb still or not. The world of Mortdecai is just strange and non-sensical enough to be brilliantly entertaining on screen, and the plot is just irrelevant enough to adapt to basically any time frame you mash it into. This is going to be like Wes Anderson meets Sherlock Holmes and it will be hilarious.
Should I read it?: Only if you found the above sample paragraph entertaining rather than infuriating. I enjoyed it, but it definitely isn’t for everybody. Don’t feel guilty for sticking with the movie.
“You would not wish to read what I could write about that dinner: when you have chewed one dead dog you have chewed them all.” -Charlie Mortdecai, throwing shade
This post is part of my I Read It First series.