I don’t often stray into the world of mystery stories. In our (reasonably extensive) library, there is only one shelf of mystery novels tucked away in a corner. It’s not that I don’t like them per se, it’s just that there are other genres that I prefer. However, I can occasionally be tempted by a good historical mystery, I love Lindsey Davis’ Falco novels for example, so when I stumbled across Mark Gatiss’ trilogy about the delightful rogue Lucifer Box, each book set in a different era, I was intrigued. I thought the first book was delicious, filled with Oscar Wilde type wit and deviancy. The second book was less my cup of tea as Lucifer Box’s character was much less prominent. Sadly the third and final (I think) book, Black Butterfly, continued the downwards trend and was my least favourite so far.
In The Black Butterfly, Queen Elizabeth II has just come to the throne and Lucifer Box is being shoved off his as he has retirement foisted upon him. In spite of this, he finds himself compelled to investigate when perfectly sensible public figures start dying in reckless accidents. Who is the mysterious Kingdom Kum? And who or what is the Black Butterfly? But someone does not want him to find out.
As each book in this trilogy is set in a different era, Lucifer Box naturally ages as the books progress. I love the idea of the aging spy, and seeing how he adapts and changes with time. However, in practice I didn’t really think it worked. Although Lucifer complains about his reduced capacity for action, there seemed to be no material difference between his abilities in this book and the earlier ones. The only difference is that he’s more curmudgeonly about it all. The sharp wit that I loved so much in the first book was sadly lacklustre in The Black Butterfly.
The plot was as amusingly ridiculous as I have come to expect from a Lucifer Box story. In particular, I thought that the link to the Boy Scouts was wonderful and really humorous. However, the primary attraction of this series to me is the central character and I found him diminished in this novel, so consequently my enjoyment was also diminished. At just over 200 pages long, I don’t feel the time spent reading it was time wasted as it was mildly entertaining. However, it’s definitely my least favourite of the series and I’m quite glad it’s come to an end.
Black Butterfly by Mark Gatiss. Published by Pocket Books, 2009, pp. 204. Originally published in 2008.