Book by C.J. Sansom
You have to give first-time author, BR Stateham, full marks for creativity and imagination. Geoffery Armitage Ffolkes is a very interesting character, indeed. Imagine if you will a tall, cocky, swaggering, outrageously dandefied 17th century privateer with a love of the puerile; an erstwhile physician well versed in the healing arts of the day; a competent businessman assiduously building his wealth; and an astute observer of the human condition who uses logic to solve puzzles ranging from minor daily life conundrums to murder mysteries with implications at international government levels. Geoffery Armitage Ffolkes is a most curious blend of the ruthless swordsmanship and devil-may-care derring do of Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood; the brilliant deductive logic and healing arts of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes AND Dr Watson together in a single persona, if you please; the self-centred arrogance and puffed-up dandiness of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot; plus the political acumen of CJ Sansom's Matthew Shardlake.
You might well think that this is just a little too much, but despite "Ffolkes' Medicine" being Stateham's debut novel, his title character is exceptionally well-developed, eminently likeable, exceedingly humorous and a creation that I would very much like to see more of. As one might expect of such a character, Ffolkes comes equipped with the mandatory amanuensis. The cheeky and very Irish Tobias O'Rourke is not the fumbling, less than brilliant characters we have become used to in Sherlock's Watson or in Hercule's Captain Hastings. He is rather a fully developed, strong character in his own right who participates much more as a crime-solving partner with deductions and insights that rival and complement Ffolkes' own brand of sleuthing.
Young Rodney York is on his death bed. He has been poisoned with the ground up powder from peach pits liberally sprinkled into a piping hot freshly baked pie. But Ffolkes has reason to believe that Rodney's poisoning was a mistake, that a mischievous Rodney got into the pie before the intended victim who might have been his mother, the beautiful Jane York; her fiancé, Charles Louis Eugène du Chardonnay; Jane's father, Admiral Christopher Myngs; or possibly even Myngs' adopted son and Jane's step-brother, Henry York. Jealousy, love, money, espionage - so many motives and so many reasons for people to wish any one of these four dead. And it is left to Ffolkes and O'Rourke to find the would-be killer and his intended victim as well as nurse Rodney York back to health.
"Ffolkes' Medicine" also does a yeoman's job in developing the atmosphere and the setting of 17th century Port Royal, Jamaica, during the height of English privateering against the Spanish Armada., laden with the incomprehensible wealth ransacked from the Aztec and Mayan treasure troves.
It seems obvious that it was BR Stateham's intent to play with the big boys in the mystery genre and emulate the likes of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. For success in a field crowded with superstars like that, you're going to have to be much, much better in the plot department. The clues and the deductions were there, to be sure, but the deus ex machina solution didn't seem to be obvious based on the plot development and the clues that were fed to the reader throughout the novel. Even the mandatory drawing room explanation with the sleuth and all of the parties gathered round didn't entirely convincingly clarify matters for me.
But, quite frankly, that didn't ruin the novel's enjoyment for me. Two stars for the plot, a very hearty four stars for the characters and we'll round it out at three stars overall. I'll also add the hope that there's more to come. Perhaps Stateham's plot creation with improve in subsequent novels.
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