"The author weaves the narrative thread between serious and funny ably and offers a compelling 19th-century mystery plot as well. [A Nude of Some Importance] As a work of darkly comic historical fiction, it's a resounding success. [A Cheese of Some Importance]"– Kirkus Reviews
A sequel delivers a flight through American history and a detective story full of jokes and red herrings.
Giesser’s (A Cheese of Some Importance, 2015) tale is alternately narrated by Cassius Lightner, a clerk at the U.S. Patent Office, and his fiancee, Amanda Crofton, a British expatriate. It’s the summer of 1816, and months after the conclusion of the last mystery the two solved—that of a missing ceremonial cheese—the couple are unwittingly drawn into another whodunit while at a Baltimore museum exhibition of the titular nude. Rembrandt Peale, a rich artist who also happens to have the contract to light Baltimore with gaslight technology, presents the show, at which there is a suspicious gas-leak explosion. Lightner is deputized by his boss, Dr. Thornton (a family friend of the Peales), to investigate the cause of the blast. Lightner and Crofton are joined in their sleuthing by former sailor Charlie Dunn, a free person of color working at the patent office. At one point, Lightner observes about Dunn: “He could cross the color line by altering his manner. A lot of people who met him weren’t quite sure whether he was black or not, and Charlie’s speech generally tipped the calculation one way or another. Why he chose to play which race, and with whom, I couldn’t always fathom.” Lightner, Crofton, and Dunn are drawn deeper and deeper into the web surrounding the explosion, and the case takes on international proportions—French, Russian, and English agents all enter the probe’s orbit. The novel ends somewhat abruptly, though not unsatisfactorily, with the loose ends tied up but not totally resolved, perhaps setting up for another sequel. The camaraderie between Lightner, Dunn, and Crofton shines through their dialogue, and their conversations allow the author to hit his comedic stride. Not every joke throughout lands, but the story quickly moves on to the next one, making for a zippy read. Most impressively, Giesser inserts intelligent observations about race and early American industrialism alongside his jokes; one such trenchant moment sees Dunn playing with the performative aspect of race to aid in his detective work.
The author weaves the narrative thread between serious and funny ably and offers a compelling 19th-century mystery plot as well.
In 1815, a 1,250-pound wheel of cheese goes missing. A patent office clerk and his fiancee must recover it but not before there is a murder, a scandal in a whorehouse, and an unusually thoughtful nighttime interlude with a feline.
Mr. Cassius Lightner, a patent clerk, is not whom he at first appears to be. Neither is his whip-smart fiancee, Amanda, who chafes at the gendered reality of her era but refuses to simply bow down to male ego. The narrative of how Cassius and Amanda are first brought in to look for the cheese is lively from the start. Cassius, in a flash-forward, finds himself chained to the cheese and wondering in a quasi-lucid way about how history shall record his wild journey. The book eventually settles into a he said/she said POV structure in which one chapter is written from the point of view of Amanda, and the next is written from the POV of Cassius. With punchy wit and clever turns of phrase, Giesser fills his leads with modern vivacity and tenacity, which makes the unfurling of the mystery of the missing cheese a pleasure to witness. “Killing does have a finality about it,” says Cassius. “Brackenridge just nodded. Father always said sex was funnier than death, but you work with the opening you have.” In this sense, the book’s wordplay is reminiscent of the works of P.G. Wodehouse, although Giesser meanders into far darker and more salacious territory. The story of Anne, a prostitute frequented by Cassius, is rendered with surprising reality and nuance. The black humor of the book, combined with its nonstop pithiness and overt cleverness, makes it an enjoyable, rapid-fire read. The balance of the inherently ridiculous—in this case, the missing cheese—and the macabre, including a murder, is balanced admirably well. Even though the book splits its time between the two leads, the overall tone and thrust of the work remains surprisingly even. As a work of darkly comic historical fiction, it’s a resounding success.
Combining witty if occasionally silly wordplay, dark adult themes, and surprisingly sharp dialogue, Giesser creates a modern-day comic novel about a series of 19th-century misadventures.