Don’t Point That Thing At Me by Kyril Bonfiglioli
I often find that the worst time in the world to be trying to decide what book to read next is just before setting off on a train journey. In this case, I was popping up to London for a quick LT meet-up, and just didn’t know what to choose. I didn’t want to take anything brand new and shiny (like the many review or Christmas books) as it would be knocking about in my bag all day. And it couldn’t be too weighty, as I’d have to carry it all day. Or too slim, or I’d finish it too quickly. Sigh – you would think with Mount TBR the size it is, this wouldn’t be a problem. Fortunately, an answer was at hand, as the post arrived literally ten minutes before I left the house, and it contained a nice second-hand (but in very good condition) copy of “Don’t Point That Thing At Me” – which was just what I needed!
I first heard about this book via Annabel’s blog, and she also reviewed it on Shiny New Books. Published in the 1970s and the first part of the series, the book sounded as it might be a combination of potentially offensive but also funny and I was keen to give it a try. Author Kyril Bonfiglioli seems to have developed something of a following, and Wikipedia says of him: “Kyril Bonfiglioli (born Cyril Emmanuel George Bonfiglioli; 29 May 1928 – 3 March 1985) was an English art-dealer, actor, science fiction editor, champion swordsman, and comic novelist .He was born in Eastbourne on the south coast of England to an Italo-Slovene father, Emmanuel Bonfiglioli, and English mother, Dorothy née Pallett. Having served in the British Army from 1947 to 1954, and been widowed, he applied to Balliol College, Oxford where he took his degree. After his divorce from his second wife he lived in Lancashire, Jersey and Ireland. He died in Jersey of cirrhosis of the liver in 1985. He had five children. He claimed to be loved and respected by all who knew him slightly. Known for being eccentric and witty, his Mortdecai novels have attained cult status since his death.” That’s quite an interesting-sounding life, then!
The Mortdecai of the title is one Charlie – christened as such and from an aristocratic background, he’s an antique dealer who quite often seems to operate outside the law. His side-kick, a thug called Jock, is loyal and reliable and often seems to save Charlie from various acts of violence. Also integral to the plot is Mortland, an ex-public schoolmate of Charlie’s whose now a policeman of a secret sort. Not limited by the usual restrictions on police behaviour, he’s quite partial to the odd bit of abduction and torture if trying to get information out of suspects. There’s no love lost between the two men, and Charlie is particularly unforthcoming on the subject of a stolen Goya. However, then murders and blackmailing begin; Charlie becomes involved with some very high-up people and is sent off to try to kill off the blackmailer; there are a variety of shenanigans while he and Jock travel round America in a very fancy diplomatic Rolls Royce; and more and more people seem to be determined to get rid of Charlie Mortdecai…
Needless to say the book was a total hoot! The blurb describes it as an “unholy alliance between P.G. Wodehouse and Ian Fleming”, which isn’t that wide of the mark, and the relationship between Charlie and Jock is wonderfully portrayed. In fact, all the characters are rather fab, including the landlady Mrs. Spon, the dreadful Mortland and the rather alarming Johanna Krampf. The humour is very broad (for example, Jock’s surname is inevitably obvious) but the book is no less funny for this. In fact, I found myself laughing out loud on the train several times! Charlie is a dry, witty narrator with a lovely turn of phrase and I found myself in mind of Jason King as portrayed by the inimitable Peter Wyngarde – albeit a little less suave and sophisticated, and a lot more crooked and violent.
Because this *is* a book where events get really dark: there are the aforesaid murders, torture, violence, plus damage to property, corrupt police and governments – but all done in a way that is somehow appealing and entertaining at the same time as being disturbing. Despite their wicked ways, you end up caring quite a lot about Charlie and Jock, and the rather alarming situations they get into.
Yes, there is plenty of politically incorrect humour but the dialogue is so witty, Charlie’s asides are just wonderful and there *is* more to the book than meets the eye. As the plot thickens and the story darkens, you find yourself wondering whether much of his posturing is just a way of covering up for a lack in his life; at one point, when struggling through the dark trying to avoid certain death, Charlie muses:
Above me and to my right shone the lights of the honest bungalow dwellers of Silverdale: I found myself envying them bitterly. It is chaps like them who have the secret of happiness, they know the art of it, they always knew it. Happiness is an annuity, or it’s shares in a Building Society; it’s a pension and blue hydrangeas, and wonderfully clever grandchildren, and being on the Committee, and just-a-few-earlies in the vegetable garden, and being alive and wonderful-for-his-age when old so-and-so is under the sod.
There is a subtext of sadness and at times a real ennui in Charlie’s life which makes you think that the surface level is his way of hiding from reality.
Charlie’s author describes his character as “a portly, middle-aged antique dealer”; therefore, it’s perhaps a little odd that the makers of the “Mortdecai” film which is about to come out have settled on Johnny Depp to play the main man… What’s even odder is that it’s apparently based on the fourth book which was left unfinished by Bonfiglioli on his death and completed by someone else. Frankly, that seems to make no sense to me.
So I heartily recommend this book; it’s probably one of those Marmite titles and if you’re easily offended you won’t want to read it. But if you can look past the stereotyping (which was, alas, prevalent at the time) and the viewpoints that are unacceptable by modern standards, this is a very, very funny, extremely unputdownable and surprisingly thought-provoking book. I loved it! 🙂