With his first departure from the canon — Jeeves and the King of Clubs — Ben Schott began the transformation of Bertie Wooster from Wodehousian gadabout and loveable dope to wise-cracking playboy and international man of mystery. Now, with this next installment, Jeeves and the Leap of Faith, the process is complete and the result is the anti-Wodehouse.
The Wodehouse formula is to populate absurd situations with eccentric characters and let it all play out for laughs. The anti-Wodehouse is a series of awkward, mainly unrelated clashes of cardboard cutouts — the good guys are all suave and witty and broadmined, and the bad guys are clumsy and dim and venal — and consequently there’s little foundation for comedy. Schott paints himself into a corner in almost every scene, as did Wodehouse, but the difference is that Wodehouse could talk his way back out again. Schott just plods through the wet paint of weak pun.
This second book descends beneath comparison to Wodehouse, leaving only comparison to the first book on which, it would appear, Schott expended his entire capacity to mimic the Wodehouse style. The clumsy, overwrought wordplay that was the occasional worst that could be said about King of Clubs is the narrative mean above which Leap of Faith rarely rises.
The absence of a resolution to King of Clubs is explained, dubiously, by the fact that many of the threads are picked up again here in what appears to be the second part of a trilogy. This would be valuable information to know before beginning the series, if these disparate threads ever conspired to form a plot. Instead, the tumbling spy story which positions a simple-minded Roderick Spode on the side of the fascists and an insipid Jeeves and rehabilitated Wooster seconded to British Intelligence unfolds in a series of clumsy set-pieces, sometimes relevant, sometimes mystifyingly not. The bizarrely unfunny scene in which Wooster, posing as a vicar, fails to say grace in Latin serves as one of many examples, but in fairness neither this nor any other sequence plummets to the depths of the absurd Eulalie Soeurs diversion from book one.
Wodehouse famously and painstakingly planned his stories, and the result is a legacy of largely unimpeachable comedy. Ben Schott made his name curating miscellany, and the result is just that. Jeeves and the Leap of Faith is a scattered collection of Latin aphorisms, Wodehousian trivia, crossword clues and historical minutiae. Indeed, the inflated appendix is a chapter-by-chapter justification for this mish-mash which is absent from the story itself, and it’s in fact more entertaining.
I confess my bias here at the end so that it can be easily edited out — the idea of a clever Wooster was already done better by Wodehouse in the form of Galahad Threepwood, and the idea of a clever Wooster solving mysteries is done better, even if it’s me saying so, in the form of Anty Boisjoly.