P.G. Wodehouse,
Piccadilly Jim
(Dodd, Mead & Co., 1917)

Machinations and complications abound in Piccadilly Jim, a convoluted P.G. Wodehouse novel with enough plot twists to fill a bus.

The story revolves around two estranged sisters: Nesta Petts lives in New York with her second husband, millionaire Peter Petts; her young, underachieving son Ogden; her nephew, Willie Partridge, an inventor of little accomplishment; Mr. Petts' forward-thinking niece Ann Chester, and assorted artistic types the family (read: Mrs. Petts) has chosen to patronize. Eugenia Crocker lives in London with her second husband, former actor Bingley Crocker; Mr. Crocker's son James, and a strong desire for a peerage.

The sisters haven't spoken for years. Their families have never met, with the exception of James and Ann, who collided under bad circumstances several years before (when he, a young journalist, ridiculed her naive collection of poetry). Time has done its work; they no longer recognize each other, although she has nurtured a fierce hatred for his name.

The story begins when Mrs. Petts, a novelist of some celebrity, is appalled to be connected in New York newspapers with her nephew James, whose drunken shenanigans in London have become amusing fodder for the press.

From this point on, the plot becomes difficult to summarize. Suffice it to say, there are a few hasty voyages between New York and London and several cases of mistaken identity, all seasoned with a dizzying array of romance, regret, reconcilliation, baseball, butlering, high finance, royalty, an undercover thief, a tough lady detective, explosives, subterfuge, kidnapping and a hospital for dogs.

It is, by far, the mostly densely packed Wodehouse tale I've had the pleasure to read -- to date -- and I'll admit, the intricately woven threads of Piccadilly Jim caught me a bit off my guard. But, while accustomed to frothier tales from this master wordsmith, I found this more complicated work entirely enjoyable -- if, at times, highly improbable. As usual, the characters are a delight, their dialogue is priceless and the novel itself is a work of art.

book review by
Tom Knapp

9 April 2011

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