In 1920 John P. Marquand a future Pulitzer Prize winner and author of the mystery adventures staring Mr. Moto, began his career with the novel, The Unspeakable Gentleman. Almost 100 years later some elements are formulaic and therefor predictable. Read as an action adventure of its day it is a thriller of the old school. This is the way they used to write them. It is family friendly and aimed at a male's sense of traditional romance and high adventure.
The unspeakable gentleman is Captain Sheldon, father to the narrator Henry. Events yet to be disclosed had caused the Captain to abandon his son and wife and leave his seaside home in disgrace. Now many years later he returns. Secret agents of the French Revolution are seeking his capture and death. A mysterious letter and a young lady are both under the protection of the captain, a self-admitted scoundrel. Having lost his reputation and his first fortune he tells his son and anyone around that he has lived on his wits and at the cost of all the values of the society that had branded him a bad man. Having nothing left that was dear to him; he has been free to live life as a wonton and dissipated man.
For all his protest we quickly see that he is a man of athletic ability and fine judgement that belies the ravages of bad living He continues to inspire the loyalty of his fellow sailors, and the trust of at least one titled French family.
His body servant, never described as a slave is a large, mostly quiet black man, Brutus. Note that anyone who speaks ill of or disrespectfully of Brutus is going to be a bad person. Good people respect him and acknowledge his value as a person. He is in a subservient role, but one born of loyalty rather than social norms. Also note that the Captain is particular that the young lady in his suit is never to be referred to except with respect. She is a Lady, capital L and never a woman. Also note that she is no wilting flower, but a thinking strong woman, capable of representing herself and seeking her own agenda.
At the risk of overreaching this book made me think of Ivanhoe, with faint traces of The Count of Monte Cristo. The Unspeable Gentleman has returns after many years to a home where he cannot expect to be warmly greeted. There are those who believe him a man without honor and those ready to kill not the fatted calf, but fellow town's men. There is a far off revolution that threatens the Captain and his followers.
The plot line is not so much one of unexpected twists as one of slow reveals. We are asked to tolerate a few too many incomplete or interrupted explanations. The motives of the uncle who raised Henry are muddled. Overall this not intended to be great literature, just a good beach read or a book to fire the imagination of a pre-teen. This is not great literature , but good entertainment.
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