This picaresque novel is narrated by the Hon. Charlie Mortdecai, an art dealer who usually operates on the shady side of the law. In the opening scene he is visited by Inspector Martland (of a secret branch of the British police) in connection with a stolen Goya. Mortdecai claims to know nothing of the matter, but he cheekily admits to the reader that it is hidden under the floorboards. After Martland’s visit, Mortdecai knows he must unload the painting, but his mission is complicated by the murder of one of his associates. Even worse, someone seems to want Mortdecai dead as well — so he strikes a bargain with Martland to get diplomatic passage to America, where he hopes to make good his escape. There he encounters a variety of adventures, from constant surveillance by men in blue Buicks to the sexual aggressiveness of a rich American widow. Through it all, Mortdecai maintains a cheerful unconcern as he matches wits with several dangerous opponents.
I have very conflicting feelings about this book. On the one hand, I don’t think I understood the plot at all; there’s definitely a painting involved, and a valuable antique Rolls Royce, and various people who want Mortdecai dead, but I was always a bit confused about what was actually going on. On the other hand, Mortdecai has a delightful narrative voice — very reminiscent of Bertie Wooster, if Bertie were an art thief with a crasser mode of expression. (For example, Mortdecai’s valet/bodyguard is called Jock Strapp, which is either funny to you or it isn’t.) So the book does provide a lot of laughs, but in the end I’m not really sure what to think of it. The novel is first in a series, and I may check out the others at some point. The movie “Mortdecai,” which comes out today in the U.S., is also based on this series, and I’m interested to see how it deviates from the book. Johnny Depp seems like a very odd casting choice, for starters, but I’m nevertheless intrigued!