Parks’s highly entertaining tenth novel (published in England in 1995), a sequel to his Juggling the Stars (1993), continues the outrageous misadventures of Englishman-in-Italy Morris Duckworth, an antihero who bears more than a passing resemblance to Patricia Highsmith’s “Talented Mr. Ripley.”
A successful unindicted serial murderer, Morris really does intend to live a life devoted to “harmony, elegance, culture” in the civilization he adores, where he’s married to gorgeous, sexually rapacious Paola and sustained by fond memories of her late sister “Mimi,” whom he had of necessity dispatched, and who now haunts her remorseful murderer. Nothing works out quite as Morris plans: hoping to perform a charitable act for a group of otherwise unemployable African immigrants, he finds them work in his stuffy brother-in-law “Bobo’s” wine-bottling plant (though some might say he’s simply exploiting them). Unfortunately, Morris’s chief subordinate Kwame becomes his accidental accomplice when Bobo, an upper-class twit who really ought to be killed, makes trouble and must be dealt with—and Kwame will eventually precipitate yet another of the several fine messes Parks’s ingenuous protagonist keeps getting himself into. Morris is actually a rather decent sort: intelligent, handsome, and personable, he reads Dante and admires “the perfection of Raphael, the decadence of Tintoretto,” among his adopted country’s other glories. And when Mimi’s ghost counsels repentance, Morris does his unlevel best to find God—a progression charted in several deliciously deadpan confrontations with both his priest-confessor and his seedy pursuer, police inspector Marangoni, and climaxing with a courtroom scene that would have had Horace Rumpole mainlining Pepto-Bismol.
Wittily conceived and disgracefully enjoyable: as deftly plotted as any of Evelyn Waugh’s acidic farces, to which this cheerfully blackhearted tale is a worthy counterpart.