"The sunshine of a fair Spring morning fell graciously upon London town. Out in Piccadilly its heartening warmth seemed to infuse into traffic and pedestrians alike a novel jauntiness, so that 'bus-drivers jested and even the lips of chauffeurs uncurled into not unkindly smiles. Policemen whistled at their posts, clerks on their way to work, beggars approached the task of trying to persuade perfect strangers to bear the burden of their maintenance with that optimistic vim which makes all the difference. It was one of those happy mornings."
Out into this happy morning steps Ashe Marson, a young man who writes popular crime novels. A young woman laughs merrily at him as he does his daily exercises. When he retreats into his office and begins work on his next story, THE ADVENTURE OF THE WAND OF DEATH, the young woman (Joan Valentine) comes to apologize, and they proceed to have a marvelous conversation about what exactly a WAND OF DEATH might be. A few pages later, both of them are on their way to Blandings Castle to recover a precious scarab and collect the reward, and we're off along with them.
I quoted that whole paragraph at the beginning because when discussing Wodehouse, I always come back to his effervescent, inimitable language. It's impossible to describe; one can only quote. I could equally well have chosen many other passages, for this particular novel is full of wonderful ones. I don't laugh out loud all that much while I'm reading, usually; reading this I laughed so many times that my husband finally inquired what I was reading. All I had to say was "Wodehouse."
Besides the language, this book has especially good characters and relationships. Joan and Ashe continue to have excellent banter, but they also have some wonderful interplay in which Joan tells Ashe in no uncertain terms that she isn't to be treated like fine china just because she's a woman. Romantic relationships in Wodehouse often feel a bit rote -- they're not really his forte -- but this one is convincingly real.
There is of course also the absent-minded Lord Emsworth himself, and though this is his earliest appearance and he's bereft of many of his usual supporting characters (notably his brother Sir Galahad, his sister Lady Constance, and his prize-winning pig, the Empress of Blandings), he's still his usual charmingly bumbling self. Happily for Lord Emsworth, he does already have the services of magisterial butler Beach (who has a hilarious interlude with Ashe, describing his Ingrown Toenail, Swollen Joints, and Lining of his Stomach) and the Efficient Baxter, secretary extraordinaire.
This may be early Wodehouse, but it's something fresh, funny, and first-class.