The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery by Kyril Bonfiglioli

“She was a fellow and tutor of Scone College and the world must learn that Fellows and Tutors of Scone College shall not be done to death with impunity.”

That’s from the blurb. But it gives you a sense of the voice and language of The Great Mortdecai Moustache Mystery. And it was both the upside and downside of the book at times. If you like facetious books with upper-class flavours, however, it’s worth giving this mystery a read. Although it is technically the fourth book in the Charlie Mortdecai mysteries series, each are episodic in and of themselves, and I didn’t feel like I was missing too much history by reading this one first. Plus, the addition of the moustache meant that I was experiencing the new along with the other readers. 😉

Summary

When a female Fellow and Tutor of ‘Scone’ college, the Hon. Charlie Mortdecai’s old Oxford college, crashes her car into a bus under suspicious circumstances, many people suspect murder. Charlie leaves his Jersey home for the blackly humorous spires of jolly old Oxford, and – under the disguise of his new moustache – hunts after two pairs of thug-like spies who were inquiring after *cough* stalking *cough* the Fellow.

What I liked

The voice, the tone, the black humour. It was cruel and unnecessary at times, but that is black humour for you – even in murder, Charlie isn’t against making a snide observation of the situation and getting distracted by his personal issues when he should be focusing on the case.

I also liked the references to real places in and around Oxford, such as the street names and the other colleges Charlie visits, even when Scone is, obviously, a made-up place to stick one’s tongue out at the idea of an upper-class Oxford. The Chief Constable (who we meet once) is a Duke! But then that’s part of the fun/facetiousness – these random characters appear to reinforce the stereotype, and somehow Bonfiglioli (himself an Oxford man) and Craig Brown (who completed the book when it was left unfinished after Bonfiglioli’s death) make these comments and characters acceptable. The voice just makes it…right. It fits, and I can’t think of a better way of saying that.

I wasn’t totally sure what decade it was set in, but it was post-war, so likely the 60s or 70s. Sociology was mocked for being an academic subject, and even Psychology was rather shunned. Despite there not being many ‘external’ (ie. not relevant to the case) references, I never really minded not knowing the temporal setting. It kept the mystery rather localised.

What I disliked

On the other hand, I’m used to reading mysteries straight and at times it felt like Charlie did more drinking, chatting, and thinking about his moustache than actual investigating. Sure, he meets a lot of police-type people and snoops around in official capacity, but every day detailed is full of hours of not-investigating.

Also, whilst I was satisfied by the ending, there were certain threads in the book, which I wasn’t satisfied had been fully covered. For instance, I think there was an excursion to Russia, but Charlie returns to the UK within a chapter of that. And another murder that, whilst implicitly solved, was pretty much brushed over. That’s not the way I like my mysteries.

So, overall? 4/5 stars. I’d read again.

Fun fact! Mortdecai, the trilogy of the first three books, is being adapted into a 2015 film with Johnny Depp in the titular role and Ewan McGregor and Gwyneth Paltrow also starring. *miniature flail* Looks like I’ll be reading the first books next! 😛

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