The Dalliances Of Monsieur D’Haricot by Barbara Stevenson (book review).

As soon as I saw the cover of ‘The Dalliances Of Monsieur D’Haricot’, I knew I wanted to read it. A dapper Frenchman on what I assumed, erroneously it turned out, to be a steampunk bicycle. It reminded me of my childhood reading of the ‘Agaton Sax’ books. Monsieur D’Haricot is a French secret agent with impeccable manners and a compulsive air of gallantry, dedicated above all else to the ideals of France.

From the moment he bumps into the mysterious Madame Chapleau, he is launched on a series of adventures that involve an underground city, a talking crab, foreign agents and confusing riddles. However bizarre things get, Monsieur D’Haricot takes everything in his stride, even when it seems at times that he’s following Alice on an adventure through the looking glass.

There’s a lot going on in this novel, too much for me to keep track of most of the time. There are identical twins, split personalities, people in disguise and doppelgangers so that half the time I wasn’t really sure, any more than Monsieur D’Haricot was, as to who he was talking to, what their allegiance was or what relationship they had with any of the other characters. Monsieur D’Haricot is a highly trained agent with all kinds of skills, but he manages to become separated from his equipment and his hat, on numerous occasions, get distracted by cognac or ladies in need of assistance and follow whims rather than clues.

This all leads to much confusion, amusing interludes and awkward situations, but I did begin to wish I had some idea what was going on.

The whole book begins with a chance encounter, so Monsieur D’Haricot is not carrying out an official investigation to give the plot any kind of structure. Instead, events follow one another pell-mell as numerous characters lead him astray, turn up out of the blue, convince him they are on his side or take him on mysterious voyages via elaborate systems of transport.

Much of the action revolves around the city built beneath Paris which is an almost exact replica of the surface Paris. Having lived underground for generations, the inhabitants have developed all kinds of advanced technology and methods of transport which are great fun, as well as several that are just confusing. Monsieur D’Haricot can never be sure whether to believe his eyes and but becomes increasingly sure that he cannot believe anything that anybody tells him.

Accompanying him for much of the book is Marina the talking crab, who seems to be much less of a surprise to Monsieur D’Haricot than you would think. She appears to know an awful lot about world affairs and the convoluted plots that have embroiled them, but she also has her own agenda that adds to the confusion.

This is a book of a little over two hundred pages but seems to pack in a plot that others might have stretched out for several hundred pages more. It’s non-stop action, mystery, adventure and confusion as the secret agent battles his way through plots, revolutions, mumbo-jumbo, bad manners, misunderstandings, illusions, flirtations and inebriation.

It’s a heady mixture of Jules Verne, Roald Dahl, Lewis Carroll, P.G. Wodehouse and Nils-Olof Franzen. I don’t think I’d like to stake the future of France on Monsieur D’Haricot but you could certainly enjoy a few hours in his company with this bewildering book.

Gareth D Jones

May 2021

(pub: Luna Press, 2021. 218 small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99(UK). ISBN: 978-1-91338-739-6)

check out website: www.lunapresspublishing.com

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