The Vesuvius Club
Mark Gatiss
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The Vesuvius Club

Mark Gatiss
240 pages
October 2005
rated 4 of 5 possible stars
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Meet the inimitable and dapper Lucifer Box, doyen of Edwardian London society. He is handsome, debonair, and admittedly bisexual, and also lives at Number Nine Downing Street, "because someone has to." Lucifer is an artist by day and a cold, calculating killer, by night, a ruthless assassin for the British government. So it comes as no surprise that in the opening chapter The Vesuvius Club, we see him casually disposing of an enemy of the State.

When Professors Verdigris and Sash, two prominent scientists, are discovered murdered, Mr. Joshua Reynolds - a dwarf in the employ of The Royal Academy of Arts - entrusts Lucifer with the task of finding the perpetrator. The scientistsí chosen field was something rather bewildering to do with the molten core of the earth. They ended up forming some sort of research team and traveling to Italy. His search for their killers isn't as easy as Lucifer first thought, and as the trail thickens, our intrepid hero finds himself in danger of his life.

Author Mark Gatiss peppers his narrative with eccentric Edwardian characters, "whey faced poets, frayed-cuffed artists; all the splendid flotsam of bohemian London life." Lucifer is equally at home in London's Imperial grandeur and the underworld of crazed vice that seethes beneath. He is a man who is geographically at the very beating heart of the Empire yet as much as an outcast as the greatest of his calling has been. Lucifer's search for the missing scientists eventually takes him to Naples, where he meets Charlie Jackpot, a young hunk who becomes his lover and servant. Charlie introduces him to the Vesuvius Club, a den of iniquity that in reality is a front for a sinister and catastrophic plan to destroy the world.

Gatiss has become popular writing the popular Dr. Who novels, and their trademark structure is evident here, each chapter carefully plotted with a huge revelation and climax at the end. Layer by layer, character by character, mystery by mystery, the insidious and theatrical plot is revealed, more clues unveiled, all leading to the same irrevocable conclusion: that the scientists have most likely met an untimely end, and that only Lucifer can possibly save the world. Gatiss deliciously portrays a society roiling with pimps, tarts and harlots, where Edwardian sexual ambiguity reigns supreme. There's evenings of flagrant debauch, especially at the Vesuvius Club, where the primary protagonists are deceitful and amoral, taking pleasure at the prospect of doing harm to other, especially to Charlie and Lucifer. Other cast members prove surprisingly resourceful, although frequently compromised.

Gatiss also has an impressive command of idiom, capturing the sycophantic nature of the era in all its self-congratulatory grandeur. Full of dotty and eccentric characters with names like Everard Supple, Miss Fullalove, Jocelyn Poop, and Bella Pock, the author has created a world of thrilling ancient antiquity and combined this with all the excitement of a turn-of the century Dickensian thriller.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2005

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