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.