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Book Review: Black Butterfly – by Mark Gatiss

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black butterfly

This is a long overdue review of this book. Re-reading what I wrote about ‘The Vesuvius Club’ and ‘The Devil in Amber’ it is obvious to me now that I discovered Mark Gatiss’ novels right at the beginning of when my mental health was bad and getting worse. They certainly helped me feel better when I needed anything that would help.

It was harder reading the last one, and one of the reasons for the delay in reviewing the book is because I had put off reading it; I didn’t want to be disappointed; I didn’t want the series to end; and I read it at about the same time that I just had to set aside superfluous tasks and try to get better.

I have been left with the lingering impression that when I read the book, I hadn’t enjoyed it, except I know that isn’t true, I know I enjoyed it, I just didn’t have a healthy mind set. Thinking about it more objectively, reading the book was a joy.

And I know this because I absolutely love the books. While ‘The Devil in Amber’ is my favourite of the three, it isn’t because the third doesn’t live up to expectations, the second one just happens to be my favourite story.

Black Butterfly is slower in pace than the first two, and like with the second book, Gatiss has masterfully toned the book to reflect that the protagonist is older. He’s created a plot that is more reflective on the past than the previous two, but he has lost none of the fun and while Lucifer Box’ body might not young any more his mind and delightful wit is still as sharp as a tack.

It is a fine ending to the trilogy, though if another one or two Box stories could be added, then I wouldn’t say no. I’d be screaming yes, please.

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Book Review: The Devil in Amber by Mark Gatiss

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Needless to say, I picked up the second of Mark Gatiss’ novels, and the protagonist Lucifer Box leapt off the page. Lucifer is so damned sarcastic, and I do love a bit of wit. There was context as well; I’d just finished ‘Slade House’ and was more than a little bit wired up, so I thought I’d make a start on ‘The Devil in Amber’ in order to lighten the mood (and ensure I didn’t need a nightlight).

One line was enough to ease my tensions about attics. One line; quite remarkable really. And the next day, when I did venture to the second line and quite a way beyond because it isn’t easy to put the book down (I really should stop tying books to myself as if they are mittens) I was once again hooked in by Lucifer’s adventures.

It is twenty years on from his romp in ‘The Vesuvius Club‘; he might a bit older, but still young at heart, and just as fun. I would say that the tone of the book is a little bit more serious, but it reflects that Lucifer Box has had experiences in the intervening years between the books (mostly World War One) that have matured him.

Though thankfully not too much; there is still plenty of wit and a few silly names, not least Lucifer’s sister who makes a prominent appearance and is called Pandora. (I’m ashamed to admit that it wasn’t until I’d finished the book that I realised the reference- no need to face-palm, I’ve done that myself already. Several times.)

The serious tone also flatters the subject matter better. The light-heartedness in which Lucifer dealt with the murders of the Vulcanologists suited the Edwardian Era and nature of the story Mark Gatiss told in his first book. Dealing with 1920s fascists and satanists who want to summon the devil does need to be a bit more serious in tone. The book is still fun and addictive to read, but it is respectful of history as well.

This seriousness and the slightly bittersweet tone of the protagonist lamenting not being quite a young as anymore is what makes me love this book. Except it is a different sort of love than the thrill I got from the first novel, which I fell in love with because of the vibrancy. This is more of a settled love; the sort you feel over time after you’ve got to know someone and are more comfortable with all their quirks and foibles.

When I reviewed ‘The Vesuvius Club’ I remarked upon how much I enjoyed getting to know Lucifier Box’s distinct character voice. It’s why he leapt off the page from the very first line. The groundwork of establishing the character in the first book paid off, because in the second novel Lucifer Box’s adventures held onto my attention from the first to the last line with minimal effort. I wanted to know what happened next because I already loved the character.

I enjoyed the story of the first book as well, but the plot of The Devil in Amber is even better. Lucifer was persecuted in the first book, but this time the threat to him is more personal, and the devilish plot to end the world much more sinister. There is a move from the slightly steampunk nature of the evil grand plan in ‘The Vesuvius Club’, to a supernatural threat in the second. Given Mark Gatiss is a talented writer he pulls of the change in which speculative genre to delight us with masterfully without the books ending up disconnected.

Can’t wait to read the third and last (sob) Lucifer Box book, ‘Black Butterfly’.

Book Review: The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss

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Book Review: The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss

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‘The Vesuvius Club’ by Mark Gatiss is very much one of those books that found me at the right place, at the right time and when I was particularly receptive to falling completely in love with it. I’m relatively familiar with Mark Gatiss’ work as a screenwriter (not to mention a massive fan of said work) but it was only recently when someone mentioned to me in passing that I found out he is also a novelist.

Naturally being a fan (and a nosy-parker) I did some research and I will admit on reading the kindle sample I was left a little bit uncertain as to whether it would be something I would enjoy, simply because it is very unlike anything I normally do read. I gravitate towards mostly towards speculative fiction or gritty crime (from before the Scandinavian authors became popular). As it turns out there are speculative elements, and while the protagonist I would say is more lucky than as clever as the likes of Poirot, I found more to enjoy than I had originally thought.

The book is the first in a trilogy centering around the character of Lucifer Box, a dapper secret service agent in Edwardian Britain, who ends up investigating a group of vulcanologists who are dying mysteriously. It is a light-hearted, witty romp through London and in the latter half of the book, Naples (of course, where else), where Lucifer has to try to solve the mystery and evade whoever it is that is trying to kill him. It’s a delightful read, with plenty of amusing names and remarks to entertain you along the way.

That wasn’t my first impression though. However, because I do have a great deal of faith in Mark Gatiss as a writer and because I’m trying to diversify my reading, I knew I would give it a go, but I made the decision to wait until I found a hard copy in a book shop rather than order it for direct delivery.

So several weeks later, I found myself killing time in St. Pancra’s train station. I was waiting for a train home to Newcastle, when I decided to go to Hatchard’s bookstore (well I say ‘decided’. I have found myself in bookstores before with no clue how I got there; it’s like a natural instinct for me to just enter them and figure out why afterwards). I’d had a half four start to get myself to London that morning, with another five hours before I’d be back at my front door. I was utterly exhausted and looking for something to keep me awake on the journey home.

Of course, I had brought a book with me, but it was heavy going with a rather grim plot, and I just wasn’t enjoying it. I knew if I tried to read it I’d end up asleep and in Edinburgh. This was when fate intervened and ‘The Vesuvius Club’ found me. I just knew that it was meant to be. I’d been uncertain about the book because of the flowery prose; it took just a little bit too much concentration to keep up with the descriptions. It was perfect for keeping me conscious.

Okay, I admit essentially saying ‘don’t worry this book isn’t a trained anesthesiologist’ is quite possibly not the best way to try and persuade you to give it a go. I promise I mean it in the nicest possible way: I did say, there was context in me falling in love with this book. That warm fuzzy feeling emerged when I realised I was traveling past Durham Cathedral, I was still awake, and I was dazed only because I been utterly engrossed in a really good book.

And it is with great irony that it the style of the prose, which had left me uncertain at first, is actually what I love the most. The book is told entirely from the perspective of the protagonist Lucifer. What I had thought to be a slightly superfluous use of adjectives and adverbs, is actually what creates one of the most distinctive character voices I’ve ever had the joy of getting to know.

I don’t entirely trust the reliability of everything Lucifer conveys to the reader, but that’s not the point. Everyone’s dialogue seems to be as witty and smooth as his own inner voice; while I’d initially thought I’d find that quite annoying, I actually find it endearing and rather amusing. It is a lovely foible of Lucifer’s personality; the desire to ensure that at no point could the reader possibly suspect that his life might not be as dapper, eccentric or as colourful as he would like to have us think. And I love it.

I’ve tried to read similar prose in the past, only to find myself bored and annoyed. It takes a certain amount of skill to pull it off properly, and I’m rather glad I put faith in Mark Gatiss’ talent as a wrtier. The imagery that got fired up in my head was fantastic, which forms an additional facet as to why I love the book so much.

Winston Churchill called it ‘the black dog’; Susan Calman ‘The Crab of Hate’. I call depression ‘The Thief’ because it robs me of the joy of seeing the colour, textures and beauty in the world around me. I’ve not been at my best lately, so to read a book with a character voice with such determination to ensure every minute detail of the world around him is colourful, textured, and  essentially glowing was wonderful.  It is what I found to be the most delightful part of discovering this book.

Needless to say I decided not to wait to find the second and the third books by chance; I’ve had them swiftly delivered to me.

 

lucifer box books

Film Review – An Adventure in Space and Time

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When it was the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who I very much enjoyed letting myself get swept away in the excitement of it all. One of the things I loved the most was Mark Gatiss’ film about the First Doctor. I have to admit, I am very much a fan of the re-launched show from 2005 onwards, and other than what I have read in books over the years I don’t know very much about the first eight Doctors other than who they are and what costume they wore.

So when I saw that a film had been made about the origins of the show and the first Doctor I jumped on the opportunity to watch it. I loved every single minute. I adore David Bradley and he did a great deal of justice to William Hartnell, making the actor not just a bit rough around the edges but also an emotionally driven person, who slowly came to love the Doctor and the show as much as the rest of us.

What was really the stand out performance was Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert. I didn’t know much about Lambert other than she was a producer for Jonathan Creek. What I hadn’t realised was just how pivotal her role was not just in launching Doctor Who, but also for gaining women a voice when working in the media. This film for me is as much about honouring the show as it is recognising her contribution.

This film is amazing and I highly recommend it, not just to Doctor Who fans, but anyone interested in knowing how TV used to be made and the people who made it.