How much did I love this book?
When it came out in the late 70’s, I read it then stole it from the local library. Never done that before (or since). In college, I vulched people who borrowed it from me (it made the rounds of our gaming group). Then I loaned it to a friend a year or so back and that was it for my book. Gone.
Fortunately I discovered that Amazon had a used copy for sale and I picked it up (see how karma works – I eventually paid for the book I stole). So now I have it. And I reread it. And loved it all over again.
I can associate with Mr. Henry Wordsworth Potts, a nebbish wanna-be writer who has great plans for his novel The game is up, Mr. Gates (as he’s got the title, the rest of the story should be easy). After losing his typewriter on the train, his landlady loans him an old banger used by P.W. Arnold, a recluse writer who’d passed away in the upstairs loft. Potts sits down to write his spuddy-spycraft yet finds his fingers writing further adventures not belonging to the aforesaid Mr. Gates, but to a dashing 1930’s adventurer, Captain Gregory Dangerfield.
Dangerfield is all that Mr. Potts is not. He’s more than the sum of all of us. He is rich, well dressed (suits by Wrottersly’s of the Strand, shoes by Mirello of Milan), well loved (“Greeegoriee! Darlink!”), a man who has tossed a saddle across the world and ridden it through the universe. He knows the Kemelman Nerve Hold, can fly a Fokker transport, and owns a Bugatti Royale, given to him by King Zog of Albania after Dangerfield pushed aside the rifle of a would-be assassin and allowing the bullet to spend itself harmlessly in a passing peasant.
And as Mr. Potts writes, Mr. Potts experiences. Channeling for P.W. Arnold, Potts finds his new colorful adventures filled with people from his real life. The beautiful girl on the train? She’s now a famous botanist, Lady Geraldine Hornsby. The beautifully elusive fellow-tenant Ms. Martin? She’s Zola, buxom and beautiful and held in a South China Sea fortress. All the people from his drab 70’s world begin populating his dynamic 30’s one, in very colorful and unique ways. Mr. Potts is hopeful enough to tape a picture of Jane Fonda to his washstand.
Just when the book exhausts its dime-novel material, it takes a new jag when Potts fearfully punches out of a story. Sadly, P.W. bids Henry farewell, and Potts is then forced to prove himself to Arnold. He does, but the relationship between authors living and dead is not yet mended. When Potts attempts to take Dangerfield out on a bawdy left-bank drag through Paris, enjoying life as only Dangerfield can, P.W. reemerges, tossing wrenches and challenges to the point where both Dangerfield and Potts are fighting for their very existence against one-eyed Mad Jacques Le Beau and the evil Colonel John Beldon Fosdyke.
It’s a great tale of grand storytelling and personal limitations, witty and warm and funny. And well worth the effort I’ve taken to maintain it on my shelf. If you can find a copy, have a look!