Jeeves in the Offing, P.G. Wodehouse
Last month I commented that the Jeeves stories are not my favorites among P.G. Wodehouse's many books. But the other day I was browsing in Half Price Books [which has been dangerous for the TBR stacks lately], and I saw this one on the shelves, in a bright shiny new-looking Arrow edition. I didn't recognize the title - I keep thinking I've finally seen them all, and then another one sneaks up on me. This book opens with Bertie answering a call from his Aunt Dahlia, who is the only decent aunt I've ever come across in Wodehouse's world. She is telephoning to invite her favorite nephew down to her country home, Brinkley Court in Market Snodsbury. Brinkley Court is the setting for two of my favorite of the Bertie and Jeeves books, Right Ho, Jeeves, and The Code of the Woosters. So that pretty much sold me from the first page. To discover that this book also involves the famous sterling silver cow creamer, which plays such a prominent role in The Code of the Woosters, just proved how right I was to add it to my shelves.
Aunt Dahlia, also known as Mrs. Thomas Travers, hasn't invited Bertie just for the pleasure of his company. She has a mission for him. Staying at Brinkley Court are Aunt Dahlia's god-daughter Phyllis Mills and her stepfather Aubrey Upjohn, Bertie's old headmaster from prep school, a martinet with a heavy caning hand. Also in residence are Mrs. Adela Cream and her son Willie, who are staying with Aunt Dahlia while the senior Mr. Cream works out a big business deal with Dahlia's husband Tom. Dahlia is under strict instructions to make the Creams' visit a pleasant one, to sweeten the business deal. Unfortunately, before Bertie arrives, she learns that Willie Cream is a New York playboy, and since he is spending a lot of time with Phyllis, she assigns Bertie to play third wheel. However, Bertie arrives reeling from an announcement in the Times of his engagement to Bobbie Wickham, who also happens to be staying at Brinkley Court. And while Bertie did once propose to Bobbie, who turned him down, he can't remember doing it again recently, and he isn't as keen on the idea now anyway.
Bertie arrives not only reeling but alone, since Jeeves is off on his annual holiday, shrimping in Herne Bay. As usual, he tries to cope as best he can with his new fiancée, his aunt's expectations, the unusual butler he finds installed at Brinkley Court, and the sudden disappearance of the cow creamer. Of course he gets into trouble. Stephen Fry wrote that Bertie is "not intelligent within the meaning of the act," but "he is loyal, kind, chivalrous, resolute and magnificently sweet-natured." That's what gets him into trouble, time and again. He can't resist a friend in need or a damsel in distress - and they know it. As usual, Jeeves is the only one who can find a way out of the coils that wind around poor Bertie. Here he nobly cuts short his shrimping holiday to join Bertie at Brinkley Court.
I really enjoyed this book. There was one plot twist that caught me by surprise - well, two, if you count the fate of the cow creamer. I hereby retract any slighting comments I have made about the Jeeves and Wooster stories. Actually, I think I'll start calling them the Bertie stories, since he's really the reason I read them.