The back blurb told me that:
"Nella, daughter of millionaire Theodore Racksole, orders a dinner of steak and beer at the exclusive Grand Babylon Hotel in London. Her unladylike order is refused, so Theodore promptly buys the chef, the kitchen, and the whole hotel. But when staff begin to vanish and an aristocratic guest goes missing, Nella discovers that murder, blackmail, and kidnapping are also on the menu."
The Times also described it as rather excellent.
It is excellent. Nella, and Theodore Racksole are an appealing pair, with a delightfully modern relationship for a book first published in 1902, Theodore let's Nella do much as she likes, and what he's told, on the grounds that it's just easier that way, and as she's a determined young woman he's probably right.
From the very night that he buys the Hotel, Theodore suspects something is amiss, and relishes the chance to solve the problem. The mix of Ruritanian style royalty, murder, mayhem, kidnap, and international intrigue is entirely far fetched and very much tongue in cheek, which is all extremely satisfying and great fun along the way.
'The Grand Babylon Hotel' seems to be a bit of an oddity in Bennett's oeuvre - it certainly has little to do with the potteries and the five towns, and sounds worlds away from the 'Old Wives Tale' as well. If I'd realised that earlier it probably wouldn't have been the book I started with- simply because it was so much fun that I'd quite like more of the same. Beginning with something more typical might have been a better idea, if only because at the moment I still don't really feel I know anything about Bennett. That will change though, and meanwhile this one is a little gem of a thing.