Classic Crime

Kyril Bonfiglioli

Kyril Bonfiglioli (born Cyril Emmanuel George Bonfiglioli on 29 May 1928) 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 and English mother. Having served in the British Army from 1947 to 1954, 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 on the 3rd March 1985 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.

Bonfiglioli wrote four books featuring Charlie Mortdecai, three of which were published in his lifetime, and one posthumously was completed by the satirist, Craig Brown. Charlie Mortdecai is the fictional art dealer anti-hero of the series. His character resembles, among other things, an amoral Bertie Wooster with occasional psychopathic tendencies. His Mortdecai comic-thriller trilogy won critical plaudits back in the 1970s and early 1980s. His work has been praised by such luminaries like Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie.

The 'trilogy' consist of Don't Point That Thing At Me, After You With The Pistol and Something Nasty In The Woodshed. A fourth, The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery was completed by Craig Brown and published in 1999.

Review: Don't Point That Thing At Me

The Hon. Charlie Mortdecai is an aristocratic, portly, amoral, dissolute art dealer. He lives with his manservant, Jock Strapp, in a flat in Upper Brook Street, and it is there he is visited by Martland, head of a police organisation called the Special Powers Group, which is only answerable to itself, and (nominally) the PM. It can therefore get away with murder, and sometimes does. Martland suspects that Mortdecai has in his possession a Goya stolen from a gallery in Spain. Unfortunately for Mortdecai, Martland is correct. Indeed, he is about to sell it to a rich American called Milton Krampf.

The laugh-out-loud plot then involves an assassination attempt on Mortdecai (which, as he admits, made him want to go to the lavatory), compromising photos of British diplomats, a madcap trip across the US in a Rolls Royce under a diplomatic passport, Mortdecai being seduced (to his initial delight) by Krampf's wife, and an unresolved denouement that takes place near Carnforth in Lancashire. Through it all, Mortdecai learns to trust no one except Jock.

First published in 1973, ‘Don't Point That Thing at Me’ has become a cult classic, as have the other books in the Mortdecai trilogy. Now a film, called simply Mortdecai, has been released starring Johnny Depp, Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow. However, as with all films, it doesn’t quite reflect the true brilliance of Bonfiglioli’s books.

The New York Times called the books 'The result of an unholy collaboration between P.G. Wodehouse and Ian Fleming', though, in this first book, there is a touch of John Buchan as well. The writing is outrageously funny (I laughed out loud on may occasions), the plot twists and turns, and through it all there is a surreal quality that sucks you into a world where nothing is as it seems (even taxis), and where no one can be trusted one little bit.

Charlie Mortdecai is a wonderful comic creation with a turn of phrase and an outlook on life that has you chuckling and wanting more. No wonder the books have become cult classics!

Reviewed by: J.G.

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