An Amiable Charlatan
by E. Phillips Oppenheim
(Little, Brown, & Co., 1916)
Joseph H. Bundercombe, an eccentric American millionaire, is in London hiding under the alias of Joseph H. Parker. He and his daughter Eve have aspirations of being great criminals. Apart from engineering a number of cunning jewel heists, they also are found dealing in counterfeit notes. But when Paul Walmsley, an English M.P., inadvertently becomes privy to their little game, he falls in love with Eve (of course!) and incidentally wishes to steer her and Daddy-o back into the paths of bourgeois decency. During this time, the Bundercombes are constantly shadowed by Cullen, a detective who always happens to be outwitted at the last moment. Walmsley, however, repeatedly urges them to amend their ways, in light of an ever-impending arrest.
Bundercombe and his daughter are seen repeatedly dining out at the most elegant establishments of London. When at last it appears that a career in crime won't pan out, they do the straight and narrow thing, and Eve agrees to marry the young Walmsley, who has a bit of wealth in his favor. Bundercombe, too, has wealth in the form of a threshing-machine business. And just when his criminal intrigues begin to grow stale, Mrs. Bundercombe (his wife!) shows up from the States to reprimand him. She is an outspoken leader of a feminist movement, and careers about town with her nose in the air and her pocket stuffed with pamphlets. She is quite intolerable, but Bundecombe and Eve always escape her withering attentions. Now Bundercombe and Eve begin to use their talents to catch criminals-- in many cases often turning the tables on them.
Where does this story go? What is its exact purpose? We are at a loss to say. The book, while humorous and entertaining, fails to do much more than while away a few hours of our time. Indeed, the story itself, while disguised as a novel, is actually a series of 'episodes' based on the career of Mr. Bundercombe. But we protest that Mr. Bundercombe's 'career' was hardly worth making a book about. At times, he can be a funny chap, and we often admire his displays of legerdemain. But it seems that this amiable charlatan had best been left to do his deeds in silence. Notwithstanding, the book has its moments. There are times when we feel that he has almost "had it." But no! He revives, and next minute we know he's about London again, back up to his old tricks. With a hefty appetite and a mouth full of sass, he struts his stuff in a way that only the true connoisseur can appreciate.
An Amiable Charlatan is the work of E. Phillips Oppenheim, a highly respected author of mystery and espionage tales. As a matter of fact, this review hardly does credit to one who has produced such a large number of high-caliber works. As we land upon this one, however, we are a bit perplexed as to the exact intention of the story. All we can say in its favor is that it is an entertaining work-- and add that it is by no means representative of the best of Oppenheim's fiction. The book contains four illustrations by Will Grefe. It is 302 pages long,;and the copy I own contains a pictorial cover showing old Bundercombe sitting at a document-strewn desk with a cigar between his lips and a diabolical grin on his face. He evidently knows something we don't, and if the reader can unravel the secret I think he'll have unriddled the biggest mystery that old rascal ever devised.
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