Thursday, 20 December 2012

Review: The Lost Ambassador

Full title: The Lost Ambassador (also known as The Search For The Missing Delora) (novel) 
Writer: E Phillips Oppenheim
First published: 1910
Available: At Project Gutenberg

Quote: I saw the usual throng come strolling in – I myself had often been one of them – actresses who had not had time to make toilette for the restaurant proper, actors, managers, performers from all the hundreds of pleasure houses which London boasts, Americans who had not troubled to dress, Frenchwomen who objected to the order prohibiting in hats elsewhere, – a heterogenous crowd, not afraid to laugh, to make jokes, certain to outstay their time, supping frugally or au prince, according to the caprice of the moment.

E. Phillips Oppenheim was a prolific writer around the turn of the last century who wrote adventure and spy tales. The Lost Ambassador is one of his more well-known works and the first of his that I read.

Captain Rotheby arrives in Paris on a mysterious mission of vengeance and chances upon Louis, the head waiter of his favourite restaurant. Bored, he follows Louis to a shade café where he spots a pair he's long been intrigued by - a South American gentleman and a young girl. Because of certain complications, Captain Rotheby finds himself forced to leave Paris, only to find himself travelling with the aforementioned gentleman, Mr Delora, and his niece, Felicia.  Arriving in London, Mr Delora seemingly falls ill and excuses himself, leaving Captain Rotheby to take care of Felicia. They install themselves at the Milan Hotel, where Louis works, and waits for Mr Delora, who seems to have vanished into thin air...

This is a classic British tale, where Frenchmen are unreliable, women either innocent damsels in distress or wicked temptresses, and English captains are  perfect gentlemen at all times. Do not expect realism in the sense of "oh, it might have happened" but expect extreme realism in setting - this book is a treasure trove of information on the era it takes place in, from what sort of hat a Frenchwoman might wear to dinner to the arrangement of a country shooting party. It's a rather well-spun tale - I admit I had it figured out - mostly - but there are lots of unexpected turns and twists to the adventure of poor Captain Rotherby, and, like I said, the local colour of the setting is extremely charming.

Definitely recommended as a light-weight holiday read!

I gave it 3/5 on Goodreads.

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