Boodlers, and pikers, and slyboots… oh my! It’s December 1901, when the paths of three of the era’s notable characters cross in the nation’s capital: the Wizard of Oz, the Countess von Schnurrenberger und Kesselheim, and Harry Reese, insurance investigator. Harry has come to Washington in order to solve a string of jewelry thefts. But first he must match wits with a throng of thirsty newspapermen, a pack of rapacious lobbyists, and a young devotee of the Wizard’s. And as is usual, his dear wife Emmie has her own agenda.
Written with more than a discrete nod at Hammett and a dash of P.G. Wodehouse this novel, the third in a series, is a great and engrossing little read. It is a mystery, with more than a little satire and three murders thrown in for good measure. Also, like its two predecessors it is completely able to stand firmly on its own merits.
Our main protagonist is the man the series is named after, and with his wife, he adds body and humour to this absorbing novel. He is dry, precise and engaging and is the perfect foil to his wife who is wilful, secretive and independent, worryingly so for the era in which the novel is set. The Author does an outstanding job of making his main character not only the perfect gentleman for his time, but one who is well aware of the ‘flaws’ others may like to point out his wife possesses, and he deals with them all in a gracious manner. He is very likeable and this makes the reader want to know more about him and his world as the novel progresses. His wife is also well written, to such a degree that she could almost be billed up there with her Husband, and the novel could be said to have dual main protagonists. I thoroughly enjoyed this strong Lady, and actually felt myself warming more to her than I did her Husband; maybe it is because I could visualize myself in her role if I were transplanted back to that time period.
The book is written in the first person narrative, with Mr. Reese being our narrator and, in this manner the story is told through his experiences, emotions and reactions to everything and everyone he meets, including some very humourous asides about his wife and her friends. However, rather than being a dry read as is sometimes can be the case with novels written in this manner, it just makes the storyline seem more realistic and interesting. I did wonder from the title of the book if the Author was giving a small nod to the Kalorama Guest House in Woodley Park D.C, as a lot of the action and events in the book do take place in Washington D.C. It is apparent when reading this mystery that extensive research was done to ensure the descriptive portions of the book concerning the nation’s capital, were correct for the time and a great deal of care was taken to ensure no buildings appeared where there were none. Through a deft use of words and writing style, the Author transports the reader back to a time when there were still vast expanses of greenery to be seen around Washington, and society was governed by strict rules and layers; he also fleshed out the storyline with wonderfully witty dialogue, a slew of literary references and some very engaging and entertaining relationships, a couple of whom I hope will make further appearances.
I would strongly recommend this novel and others in the series to lovers of the mystery genre and those who like a side order of humour and satire with their murders.