Black Butterfly

Author: Mark Gatiss
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Release Year: 2009

On a couple of occasions I have said it is far easier to write reviews of bad films, books or CDs, than it is to write about good works. But that doesn’t mean I want to write negative and mean-spirited reviews. I want to love every spy story that comes my way, and even if a project doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights that the creators intended, I’m always willing to meet it half way. As far as I am concerned, just give it your best shot – regardless of budget, time and talent. But sometimes I have to be negative. And my reasoning for this is when I feel that the creator’s hearts are not in the project. Unfortunately Black Butterfly seems to fall in that category. But before I go any further, because I haven’t written up reviews for The Vesuvius Club or The Devil in Amber, it is probably best that I say a few quick words about the two previous Lucifer Box stories.

The Vesuvius Club

The first book in the Lucifer Box trilogy

Firstly, The Vesuvius Club (2004). I thought it was fantastic. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air in a genre that was getting a bit tired and over-run with techno-babble. Gatiss returned us to the days when spy stories were grand entertainment, and the adventures of the hero were all a bit of a lark. Sure, Gatiss caught me off guard with the bi-sexuality of the character Lucifer Box, and if you’ll pardon my French, the ‘…so I fucked him’ passage had me reeling like I had been punched in the face by a heavyweight boxer — but at the same time, well why not? Like I said the book stirred up the stale old spy story, and for that I was extremely grateful.

Devil in Amber

Lucifer Box moves into Dennis Wheatley territory

Next came The Devil in Amber (2006). Now, I guess any shock value that Box could provide had now dissipated, and as such I didn’t think Amber was quite up to its predecessor’s standard, but still I found it a very enjoyable adventure. For those who are not familiar with the Box novels, let me explain that The Vesuvius Club was set in the late 1800s and Box was an Edwardian, rake about town, kind of spy. Amber moves the character along a bit and is set during the 1920s or 30s and appears to be modeled on a Dennis Wheatley novel.

Now comes the last in the series, Black Butterfly. It is set in the mid 1950s and it is the Bond book, if that makes sense. That is, Gatiss is parodying and placing Box in a Bond style universe. This, with my proclivity for all things Bond, this is the book I was really looking forward to. Now here’s the bit I didn’t want to have to say — this book is a real disappointment. At first glance, the book looks great with it faux Richard Chopping inspired cover (for the hardback) or the playing card as the old – one of the many – Casino Royale cover (for the paperback edition). My first thoughts however were, gee the book is thin. And the words are big inside. This will barely take me a night to read (please note that I am a very slow reader – because I sit in front of a computer all day, my eyes are usually pretty shot when I get home).

But then I though, well Fleming’s novels were not great heavy slabs. They were fast paced and short – just grabbing the first Bond paperback within reach off the shelf next to me as I write – it’s an American Signet paperback of Moonraker (23rd Printing) – and it comes in at 175 pages (though the type is much smaller). So I thought Gatiss’ intention was to write a fast paced thriller in a short book format. Next, I read the first chapter, and to be perfectly honest it is a ball-tearer. It is written in third person, like the Bond stories and has a woman in peril and piranha fish. Great. At this stage I was pretty excited about the book I was holding in my hands. But then the story pulls back and we find out it was all a dream. I don’t know about you, but when I was in Year 7 at school, my English teacher warned the whole class, that if he came across a piece of writing that ended with ‘…and then I woke up’, he would fail the student immediately.

After the dream, the story starts proper in first person (like the previous books). Lucifer Box is old and about to retire, but first he has one last chore – and that is to investigate the strange death of his friend Christopher Miracle. The rest of the book seems rushed and sloppy. There are good passages, but I felt like I was reading an un-corrected proof. There was a paragraph doubled up and typos galore (although I realise that it is somewhat hypocritical of me to condemn a piece of work due to typos – but then again, I do not have an editor, or send out proofs of my work for correction before posting – I simply type in whatever frazzled verbiage pops into my head and hope my fingers can keep up). But Black Butterfly shows all the hallmarks of a piece of work that was rushed to meet a deadline, and I am afraid that isn’t good enough. I know publishing is an industry and publication and promotion take a lot of organization, and a deadline is a deadline – but where are the wiser heads, who sit down a read the manuscript / typescript and say yay or nay? Who is the person that says ‘sorry, this is not up to scratch, let’s delay the release’?

At the end of the day, putting out an incomplete or rushed book only hurts the author’s reputation. At one stage there was talk about further books in the Lucifer Box series, but now, I for one would be very wary of them. I would certainly read a few reviews before I laid my money down.

Look, don’t let my negative comments put you off reading the first two books in the series, but Box and Bond fans should be wary of Black Butterfly.

From the blurb:

Black Butterfly

The disappointing end to the trilogy

LUCIFER BOX. He’s tall, he’s dark and, like the shark, he looks for trouble. Or so he wishes. For, with Queen Elizabeth newly established on her throne, the now elderly secret agent is reaching the end of his scandalous career. Despite his fast-approaching retirement, queer events leave Box unable to resist investigating one last case…Why have pillars of the Establishment started dying in bizarrely reckless accidents? Who are the deadly pay-masters of enigmatic assassin Kingdom Kum? And who or what is the mysterious Black Butterfly? From the seedy streets of Soho to the souks of Istanbul and the sun-drenched shores of Jamaica, Box must use his artistic licence to kill and eventually confront an enemy with its roots in his own notorious past. Can Lucifer Box save the day before the dying of the light?

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