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In his third installment of The Rapstone Chronicles, the prolific Mortimer (Paradise Postponed, 1986; Titmuss Regained, 1990, etc.) offers a light, dryly amuisng tableau of contemporary English politics featuring his always-scheming hero, Leslie Titmuss, a Thatcherite out of office but never, it seems, far from power. After sorting out the party names and positions, the reader settles into a harmless comedy of duplicity, betrayal, power, and, of course, sex. As in the two preceding satires, the center of political gravity is “Lord” Titmuss, whose appetite for revenge against his party’s unfaithful liberals is given an opening with the highly suspicious death by drowning of the Hartscombe and Worsfield South MP. The race is on to fill the dead MP’s seat, and Titmuss engages in a strange alliance with Terry Flitton, the Tony Blair—esque, reformed Socialist New Labour candidate. Mortimer wickedly recounts the hedging, omissions, and fabrications endemic to successful political life while arming Titmuss with the more damaging knowledge of Flitton’s extramarital affair with Agnes, a Socialist bookseller of high principle who becomes Flitton’s nominal conscience. A skeletal subplot involves the Skurfield Young Offender’s Institution, headed by the closeted homosexual Paul Fogarty, one of whose inmates figures in the opening death. In a neat fold of plot, the election turns on Flitton’s outing Fogarty (at Titmuss’s behest), losing both Agnes and his wife Kate, and winning office. The fun doesn—t stop here, though: the story’s unresolved issues are lined up in a neat row with the flaws and faults of Flitton, who himself topples conclusively when Titmuss flattens him—on national TV, no less. Mortimer has the attractive ability to write about politics without the brow-furrowing gravity or campy absurdity so often found in American political fiction. He inhabits an entertaining place where there is much to smile at, not so much to think about, and almost nothing to complain too loudly about.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1999
ISBN: 0-670-87861-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1999


FictionQUITE HONESTLY by John Mortimer
by John Mortimer