A coffee-taster in fin de siècle London experiments with love, coffee varietals and the commodities market in Capella’s robust latest (The Wedding Officer, 2007, etc.).
Robert Wallis is a dandified dilettante who pens verse, spouts aphorisms and aperçus and spends beyond his meager allowance on smoking jackets and other wardrobe items worthy of his idol (at least sartorially) Oscar Wilde. Coffee importer Samuel Pinker overhears Wallis disparaging a café’s brew, and hires his palate. Collaborating with Pinker’s daughter Emily, Wallis concocts a tasting kit of small vials of coffee flavors, enabling Pinker’s buyers to identify superior beans on their travels abroad. Although he visits prostitutes nightly, Wallis finds himself falling in love with Emily and supporting her campaign for women’s suffrage. When he proposes marriage, however, Pinker exiles him to Abyssinia to farm coffee under the tutelage of crusty Scotsman Hector Crannach. Wallis and Hector are accompanied by coffee broker Ibrahim Bey, and Bey’s two slaves, Fikre, a gorgeous African, and her eunuch guardian Mulu. Entranced, Wallis forgets Emily. Emily, meanwhile, mistakes politician Arthur Brewer for a kindred spirit. Wallis barters his last shilling for Fikre, and after a honeymoon of ecstatic lovemaking Wallis learns he’s been swindled: Ibrahim and Fikre have colluded to bankrupt him. Fikre escapes with Mulu, her true love. After Hector’s death (he’s mauled by a leopard) Wallis finds letters disclosing Hector’s affair with Emily. Disillusioned, Wallis returns to London, equipped with valuable life lessons from the tribesmen he’d tried and failed to exploit. He finds Emily married to Brewer, now an MP who’s shown his true male chauvinist colors. Back in Pinker’s employ, Wallis unwittingly abets Pinker’s conspiracy to manipulate the coffee market. Demonstrating that commodities futures and investor gullibility haven’t changed in a century or so, the ensuing “correction” benefits only Pinker and a few other major players. Finally proving his moral mettle, Wallis bows out, renouncing a fortune.
Despite its length, a fast-paced narrative propelled by Capella’s masterful characterizations of his principals, Wallis and Emily.