Posing in Paradise by Robert Bruce Stewart has a provocative cover featuring semi-clad half-human creatures. I can find no relationship between this cover and the content of the novel. I could have easily missed any relationship because this is a collection of multiple mental prods that somewhat numb rational thinking. Harry Reese, the protagonist, calls it Emmie-land, Emmie being the name of his wife. This presentation is humor on its own level and is hard to categorize. It would be very easy to fall into a trap of calling the novel a collection of humor for intellectuals. If Harry Reese thinks you believe that, he will attempt to stifle his chortles and you, dear reader, will have proved his point about the self-declared superiority of the inhabitants of Emmie-land.
A glance at the Amazon page will inform the reader that the author feels misplaced in the 21st century. The language used in this novel is so far removed from the 21st century that Stewart felt it necessary to include a glossary for mortals that could not keep up. While I appreciated the glossary for some of the terms, there is also content that is just made up vocabulary. That is OK because with minimal effort readers will discover hilarious definitions invented by several characters.
Harry Reese is not completely a slacker as far as supporting the family, but it seems he has had a comfortable existence only recently threatened by bad luck. As an insurance fraud investigator, Harry makes money when he uncovers deceptive practices that would cost his insurance company clients money. He lives on commissions. But when a fraud is discovered not as a result of Harry’s efforts, or if a company goes bankrupt before the check is in the mail to Harry, his income is null, nothing, or nil. Harry has had a string of bad luck lately. Maybe he could take what money he has and increase it through successful wagering at the horse racing track. Nope, that didn’t work. Maybe he could borrow some money from Snide Sam. With his winnings, he could repay Sam and make up for his earlier losses. Nope, that didn’t work either and Sam is an unforgiving lender. It might be time to go with his wife on a trip to visit her mother and a couple of cousins his mother-in-law was taking care of. Emmie always liked visiting her mother. And it was better than waiting for Snide Sam to visit him.
It wasn’t that Emmie had any burning desire to visit her mother. But Emmie’s hometown, Northampton, Massachusetts, would soon be honored by a visit from the novelist Henry James. Emmie’s friend Margaret had hinted that she could get a dinner invitation for Emmie and, if Emmie were lucky, maybe the great author would agree to be her patron or mentor. Emmie knew that she was as great as James; she knew they were fellow geniuses. Emmie was certain of this even in the face of disagreement from husband Harry. Harry pointed out that Emmie had never been able to read more than five pages of the great author’s work without falling asleep. He also pointed out that over a period of years she had never received income in the double digits for any of her work. Harry considered Emmie’s writing to be a hobby and in their current constrained financial situation, Harry preferred she do something more financially lucrative. Harry didn’t know about the planned appearance of the famous author. That was one of Emmie’s secrets. Harry thought of Emmie’s mother as a source for a loan.
Harry was more unwilling to go on the trip than not, despite the chance to borrow money. Emmie had told Harry he would have to spend his time attempting to “straighten out” twelve-year-old E. Pluribus, a male cousin or nephew. E. Pluribus was out of control, truant most of the time, a petty burglar, a dedicated mischief maker and, according to Harry, was pure evil. On previous visits, Harry had tried to bribe E. Pluribus to run away from home. Then there was a cousin or nephew Hal, an eighteen-year-old who was in love with a cook ten years his senior. Lottie, the cook, didn’t love Hal but was amused by the attention. Hal’s sister, Gloria, presented an aura of sexual precociousness but Emmie thought she could handle that cousin or niece.
The visit to Emmie’s mom takes place. There is a lot of revelations of family secrets, even some about Harry and Emmie. There is a mysterious body in a swamp that appears, disappears, gets found, and is concealed again. An asylum inmate assumes the role of President William McKinley and pardons Harry for a murder he may have had nothing to do with.
The humor is subtle, sarcastic, and plentiful. I would think of it as British humor except it takes place in the US around the turn of the twentieth century. There are seven Harry Reese mysteries which are a combination of novels and short stories. There is a series of three Emmie Reece mysteries. I am sure I will read all of them but will mix them with other genres over the next few months. I find concentrated humor loses its luster when humor is the only genre read. I want to save these novels like some sort of condiment when I want to spice up my reading. I found all of Stewart’s works available for free on Kindle Unlimited except for the boxed set collections. This is another situation in which I point out that Kindle Unlimited is good value for money.
No one should be surprised to see I gave this novel five Amazon stars. I will close with a paragraph that jumped out at me as an example of Stewart’s style of writing. At a dinner party: “The soup will be served shortly,” I announced, then, fearing that with so literate a crowd my lexical imprecision might invite misinterpretation, added, “I mean, the soup will be served in a short while… and certainly not with any lack of civility.” (Kindle pages 227-228).
This is fun.