My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

A early collection of Wodehouse short stories, now in the public domain1. There are eight short stories here, four of which are very early Jeeves & Wooster stories, the other four feature Reggie Pepper, who is obviously an early draft of Wooster, sans Jeeves.

My Man Jeeves
P.G Wodehouse, 1919
The Reggie Pepper stories have their odd moments, but Wooster without Jeeves is quickly tiresome and clearly out of balance.

The Jeeves stories are narrated by Wooster in a light, collegial tone with a double-helping of jazz-age aristocratic colloquialisms. Wooster is a member of the English idle classes, in a world of school chums, country houses, perhaps a show after dinner at the Drone’s club. Wooster isn’t particularly sharp, but the bulk of the young men in these stories are even duller, stumbling into money trouble or (more often) a problem of how to attract an engagement or escape from one. They all come to Wooster, but they come for Jeeves.

Jeeves is Wooster’s personal valet, with his own preposterous language. Where Wooster’s exposition is a meandering jaunt around the park, Jeeves is stiff and precise in an equivalently roundabout way. The prime charm, at least in these early stories, is the spousal dialogue between these two; it is extravagantly wrought.

Wodehouse apparently came to plotting late, and the plotting in these stories is pretty thin. I’ve been somewhat spoiled, in that I had watched these stories in season three of Clive Exton’s excellent TV adaptation2. Exton took several of these stories and intertwined and even connected them, while retaining the bulk of the admirable dialogue in place. Stripped and split pea like this, they feel a thin soup indeed.

All four Jeeves stories are worth it for the dialogue. The Reggie Pepper stories are interesting as a precursor, but to channel Wooster for a moment: if I read them again, I wouldn’t, if you see what I mean.


  1. Available from Project Gutenberg, I read it on a Kobo.
  2. Exton's series is great, but these stories all take place in New York rather than London or the English country side, and the obvious production challenges make these episodes pretty claustrophobic and a bit dull.


An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill

An Advancment of Learning
Reginald Hill, 1971, 254p
The second novel featuring Dalziel and Pascoe, Reginald Hill's Yorkshire detectives. I read the first novel about a year ago, and wasn't immediately inspired to continue with the series. One of the problems with reading mystery series from the beginning is that the first volume is rarely great. The author is figuring out the characters, the setting, and finding their voice and angle - even more so if this is the authors first series. For example, the first outings of P.D. James's Dalgliesh and Ian Rankin's Rebus - not terrible, but obviously not ready.

Hill's second outing is much more enjoyable. A series of grotesquely improbable murders occurs on a small and somewhat remote college campus. The setting is cozy-style - an insulated and incestuous knot of suspects, but appropriately for its time (the early 1970s) it is lashed through with generational and sexual tension, not to mention generational and sexual experimentation. Superintendent Dalziel is older, corpulent, coarse and direct. His sergeant, Pascoe, is young and university educated - a rarity in a policeman at the time. Pascoe's social science education is a target for constant mockery Dalziel, and the academic setting exacerbates his scorn.

Though credibility is stretched from the starter's pistol, the story is interesting and well told. Hill excels with his secondary characters, though he is more aggressive with scorn and with lust than most. The old maids are generally savaged, and the campus sweater candy is drenched in drool. Largely filtered through the protagonists, the sexism is era-appropriate, though somewhat dissonant to my 21st century ears.

Like James, Hill is concerned with the lives and histories of the primary figures in his mysteries, rather than the mechanics of crime. It makes a richer story, and Hill's writing is thoughtful without being heavy. In this case, though, the climax leaves us with sort of limp motivations for the central crimes. In this book, as with the first, Hill's crimes are improbable and his mysteries a bit soggy, but the thoughtful writing and considered characters makes the flaws easy to forgive.


Jamilti and Other Stories by Rutu Modan

Jamilti and Other Stories
Rutu Modan, 2008, 120p
I previously read and reviewed Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds, this is a collection of graphic short stories from earlier in her career. These stories are 10 to 30 pages each, and you can get a lot of artwork in that space, but not a lot of story. You can make up for that lack of temporal space with the depth of content that the artwork holds, but Modan is really only up to that challenge occasionally. Her line work isn't particularly expressive, and she leaves most of the atmosphere to her colour work.

Or perhaps all the elements are here, but not at the same time? There is great atmosphere and variety of perspective in "The Panty Killer", but the story is a limp mystery that didn't engage me at all. "Homecoming" is made up entirely of bold, full page panels with line and colour that put me in a Gauguin mood, and an interesting story, but thin, rote characters. "Jamilti" has an interesting story and an engaging character, but flat, clumsy line work. And so on, until the last story "Your Number One Fan", which has all the pieces in place and I think is superior to "Exit Wounds".

Which leads me to approach this as a satisfying collection of juvenilia. The reader can watch the author diddle around with various notes, before finally hitting a lovely, rich minor chord.
Except from Your Number One Fan