The house-party at Chateau Blissac, Brittany features a rather odd array of guests this year.Mr. J. Wellington Gedge is hoping for some peace and quiet while his wife takes herself off for a while. She, however, has invited numerous visitors to the chateau, to whom he will have to play reluctant host. Senator Opal and his daughter are expected, and so is the chateau's handsome owner Vicomte de Blissac.When a certain letter goes missing, landing the Senator in the proverbial hot water, it's up to Packy Franklyn, a great pal of the Vicomte's, to sort out the mess. Unfortunately, this involves a little light safe-cracking.
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Hot Water, and narrator Jonathan Cecil, are lots of fun. Wodehouse's way with words and joyful tone delighted me the entire time I read this book. There are lots of twists and characters who are full of surprises. Many of the characters are American, and most of the action takes place in France, so there isn't as much emphasis on the British aristocracy as is usual (in the Jeeves/Wooster or Blandings series.) Fans of other Wodehouse novels probably will be as delighted as I was. I plan to listen or read the book again to catch anything I missed!
Wodehouse is most famous for two series, the Bertie and Jeeves novels and stories and what Wodehouse himself once referred to as “the Blandings Castle saga”.
Those who have explored the Master’s canon a little more deeply are familiar with two other delightful recurring characters: Ukridge (“that foe of the human race”) and the nephew-rich Mr. Mulliner. Below that strata are what might be identified as the “Valley Fields Chronicles”, a series of loosely-connected novels that revolve around that much-abused suburb, including such gems as Sam the Sudden (1925), Big Money (1931) and Ice in the Bedroom (1961).
Then there are all the, for lack of a better term, “one-offs”: novels with characters that never recur elsewhere, each set in a place that seldom if ever figures in other tales. Among these particular delicacies, Hot Water is one of the most delectable.
Admittedly, Gordon (“Oily” to his friends) Carlisle and Gerty (the tree on which the fruit of his larcenous life hangs) are recurring characters (most delightfully in Cocktail Time, 1958). But the main characters, Packy Franklyn, Lady Beatrice Bracken, Blair Eggleston, Senator Opal, his charming daughter Jane, the Gedges and the “Veek”, while all recognizable Wodehouse types, are all indigenous to this one story.
And what a tangled, funny, sweet, ridiculous story it is. There’s no point in summing up the plot because that would ruin the fun. Just imagine what a U.S. Senator, having been elected and re-elected for years on a sound “Dry” platform, would do if a woman—a woman who wants him to grant her husband a particular political favor—suddenly came into possession of his latest letter…to…his…bootlegger.
Jonathan Cecil is very near the top of his game on this one—not quite as good as his performances on Young Men in Spats or Uncle Fred in the Springtime, but very close. Occasionally he fails to pace himself, running out of breath on some of Wodehouse’s longer sentences but, while disappointing, this doesn’t get in the way of the fun. Every character comes through your earphones as a three-dimensional individual, and no nuance is missed.