While still a young man, John Courteney Boot had, as his publisher proclaimed, "achieved an assured and enviable position in contemporary letters." His novels sold 15,000 copies in their first year and were read by the people whose opinions John Boot respected. Between novels he kept his name sweet in intellectual circles with unprofitable but modish works on history and travel. His signed first editions sometimes changed hands at a shilling or two above their original price. He had published eight books - beginning with a life of Rimbaud written when he was eighteen, and concluding, at the moment, with Waste of Time, a studiously modest description of some harrowing months among the Patagonian Indians - of which most people who lunched with Lady Metroland could remember the names of three or four. He had many charming friends, of whom the most valued was the lovely Mrs Algernon Stitch.
Where are we?
London, the 1930s.
When the Daily Beast needs a reporter to cover an African conflict, the name of fashionable novelist John Courteney Boot is top of the list. It is therefore inconvenient when William Boot, the newspaper's meek writer of the natural history column ("Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole..."), is mistakenly sent in his place.