In 1955, Noel Coward released a song called “In a Bar on the Piccola Marina,” about a proper British widow who decides to take a holiday on the island of Capri. That song, comic and genteelly naughty as only Noel Coward could make it, was constantly in my head as I read this installment of the adventure of Nick and Carter.
Having fled their gilded prison in Nice (Nizza in Italian), the boys, guided by their trusty captain O’Reilly on a new, smaller sailing yacht, explore the coastal towns of southern Italy—Procida, Naples, and finally Capri. They are ostensibly killing time until they can figure out a “way home,” meaning San Francisco, with the idea of returning to Australia to fulfill a promise they made many books ago to a now-deceased friend. But fate seems to have them in its sights again.
One consistent motif that has threaded through this extensive series is the ghost of Nick’s great-uncle Paul Williams, the vastly rich and notoriously queer figure who left Nick his fortune. He shows up in Nick’s dreams, offering advice, but also raising questions. Uncle Paul is important in this volume, because Nick and his beloved Carter are, literally and figuratively, at sea.
Capri, celebrated a century ago as a sort of “Fantasy Island” for rich homosexual Brit exiles, male and female, becomes a kind of touch point in Nick and Carter’s journey. Here they encounter a whole gaggle of men of varying ages, ethnicities and classes, who embody the social and emotional conflicts that Nick and Carter have experienced in their life together, and distill it into a clear, sharp truth: Nick and Carter are special, and they have a place in the world, a destiny, that matters. Never has Frank Butterfield gotten quite so existential as he does on this romantic, rocky, sun-baked island.
Of course there are several mysterious deaths, one of which is even tragic. There are plenty of eccentric and amusing characters, lush descriptions of the island and its people; and we also finally get the full story about Nick and Carter’s elusive friend, Gerald Whitcombe. And therein lies quite a startling tale, offering our boys a new insight into what their notoriety means in the larger picture of history.
Sounds portentous doesn’t it?
Once again, as with the last book, “The Leaping Lord,” this book feels poised on the precipice of something new—which, at #20, is pretty astounding. This series is not winding down. Frank Butterfield’s vivid imagination and love of history (and obsession with describing everybody’s height, weight, age and coloring—something I appreciate) is not petering out.
We’ve come a long way from the little house in San Francisco. Where will Frank take us next?
- Paperback: 340 pages
- Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform (12 April 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1987722833
- ISBN-13: 978-1987722833
- Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 2.2 x 20.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 445 g
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