Vesper Holly takes on the deserts of Northern Africa!
I, Professor Brinton Garrett, hold to the strictest codes of honor. I believe that a man’s word must be as dependable as his character, and that when a man gives his promise he must fulfill it. That’s why I was shocked, horrified when my dear ward, Vesper Holly, brought it to my attention that there lay under our roof a priceless volume which was fifteen years overdue to be returned to its native library. I agreed with her that we must consider it our bounden duty to personally return it to the library director along with our most profuse and abject apologies.
I was unaware when I professed said opinion that this volume did not belong to any library in our beloved city of Philadelphia, or even in the United States. No, this book belonged to the famous library at Bel-Saaba, a nearly inaccessible town in Northern Africa. When I learned this, my opinion wavered – surely we need not travel so far ourselves? – but Vesper, dear girl, remained firm. It was our duty, and no thought of hardship should dissuade us from our duty. What befell us was hardly in the line of duty…
Between being kidnapped, sold as slaves, captured by tribesman, and forced into flying contraptions, I highly doubted that we would ever be able to return our book. But we did. Would we ever get out of Bel-Saaba alive was the real question.
I’ve already discussed the general style of the Vesper Holly adventures in my review of The Philadelphia Adventure. I hope none of you mind if I reiterate here what I wrote in that review.
Fearless. Indomitable. Intellectual. Well-traveled. Highly civilized. Passionately dedicated to the pursuit of justice. This is Vesper Holly.
She has been called the female Indiana Jones, a comparison which, though I have never seen an Indiana Jones movie, I feel is likely a just one. Not only does Vesper dash around between nations solving highly dangerous problems of national importance, but she does so with an air of complete calm. On the rare occasions that her muscles fail her, her cunning never does.
Some may think that this sounds like a feministic scenario, but it simply isn’t. Oh, Vesper’s plucky alright. And she is often the primary leader in her investigations. But her leadership isn’t a self-declared, rebellious, in-your-face leadership – it’s a natural one, the result of her obviously superior brain power. She is sometimes abrupt, but is never disrespectful.
One of my favorite parts about the Vesper Holly adventures is the fact that Vesper isn’t a one-man show; she has an entire team behind her. Firstly there is Professor Brinton “Brinnie” Garrett, the narrator, who, though sometimes fussy, is always good hearted. Then is Brinnie’s wife, Mary, who is not only sweet and gentle, but can be entirely hard-nosed when those she loves are in danger. Lastly, the towering twins, Smiler and Slider, provide the muscles and additional manpower to Vesper’s counter-plots.
The Vesper Holly stories self-consciously imitate the most dramatic installments of the adventure genre. Alexander had a fine line to walk here – one notch more of drama and the whole story would feel completely overdrawn. One notch less, and the story would fall into dredging cheesedom. But he walked his line and achieved adventures which are archetypical but original; impossible, but highly probable in Vesper’s world. Vesper herself is a dear darling girl with a startling brain and an amazing aptitude for stratagem – Dr. Helvitius is a perfidious rapscallion whose sinister snarls are chilling and whose plots are never less than national in scheme.
Dr. Helvitius reminds me of Saccharine from Spielberg’s recent The Adventures of Tintin. Ruthless and unprincipled, but ever gentlemanly in dress and expansive in manner. It’s my favorite type of villain, really. Of course, the fact that Dr. Helvitius pulls Rathbone’s Moriarty-style unconfirmed deaths at the end of each story and prompt reappearances at the beginning of the next, doesn’t hurt anything.
Brinnie’s narrative, in keeping with the style of the story, is well-worded and the written style feels like a throwback to the 1890s adventure story – no small feat for a modern author. Here is an example of his style.
“I have had some experience with camels. For contrariness and foul temper, and a disgusting habit of expectorating, the creature is surpassed only by a Philadelphia banker.” [pg. 6]
This upcoming section takes place after Vesper and Brinnie are extended hospitality by Sheik Addi’s tribe. Vesper entertains Sheik Addi by telling him a few very original stories.
“His eyes popped at her account of the great Ben-Jamin who summoned lightning from the heavens. He bellowed and slapped his knees over Samu el-Adams and the Bou-Stonis who painted their faces, put feathers in their hair, and cast boxes of mint tea into the harbor. Vesper told him of Ibn-Jeffer and Sheik el-Washington, of the mighty bell of Philad el-Phia, of Betsi ar-Ross stitching a banner from her caftan.” [pg. 61]
One of the secondary-but-still-main characters was Maleesh, a young man who joins Vesper’s band Mokarra and who claims that their fates are bound together by the stars. So it is written, so it must be. He makes several references to this (humorously depicted) belief, but in the end Vesper chides him,
“Kahia Maleesh,” replied Vesper, “you still have it backwards. First, it is. Then, so it will be written.” [pg. 150]
A man calls himself a jinn, but he is fully human.
Conclusion. Great fun – the highly developed characters combined with the detailed plot and nostalgic narrative style make for a tremendous read. Also read The Philadelphia Adventure.
Review © 2014 Laura Verret