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Around 1958, a decade on from the preceding novel, Books Do Furnish a Room, Nicholas Jenkins attends an international literary conference in Venice, where the death is announced of French author Ferrand-Sénéschal. Dr Emily Brightman introduces Jenkins to Russell Gwinnett, a prospective biographer of X Trapnel with a faintly alarming manner. Gwinnett naturally wishes to meet Pamela Widmerpool, and he produces a press report linking her with Ferrand-Sénéschal's death.
Next day the conference visits the Bragadin Palace to view a ceiling painted by Tiepolo illustrating the theme of Candaulism running through the novels. Pamela is encountered with American film director Louis Glober gazing at the ceiling. Gwinnett is introduced to Pamela. Widmerpool arrives, and a row between the couple ensues with accusations flying.
On the Sunday Jenkins visits painter Daniel Tokenhouse and lunches with Ada Leintwardine and Glober. Further viewing of Tokenhouse's paintings is interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Widmerpool on mysterious business. It is evident that Glober has designs upon Pamela.
Jenkins dines with Gwinnett, who recounts a surprising earlier rendezvous with Pamela. Later at a bar he meets Odo Stevens (now married to Rosie Manasch) and Pamela, who foretells trouble for Widmerpool.
Back in England later that year Jenkins visits Bagshaw, who recounts the mystery of Pamela's nakedness in his house while Gwinnett was staying there. Later still he dines with Gwinnett, and attends an army reunion where he hears a further account of Stringham's death; Farebrother predicts Widmerpool's imminent arrest for spying.
Moreland conducts at a Mozart concert party given by Odo and Rosie Stevens in Summer 1959. Glober is there with Polly Duport (actress daughter of Bob Duport and Jean), as are Mrs Erdleigh with Jimmy Stripling, Audrey Maclintick and the Widmerpools. There are violent scenes between Glober, Pamela and Widmerpool on leaving the party. Pamela is warned by Mrs Erdleigh that she is near the edge. Moreland collapses after the concert.
Later, Jenkins reflects on the subsequent death of Pamela, apparently from an overdose while in bed with Gwinnett, and also visits the dying Moreland in hospital.
In its review of Temporary Kings in 1973, The Times said the book was an improvement on the previous installment, Books Do Furnish a Room, which it said 'showed a certain staleness'. It added: With 11 out of the 12 books in the series now before us, it is possible to speak fairly confidently of the work as a whole. In spite of that air of being our English Proust which has sometimes grated on those who like the French one, Mr Powell is unlikely to imitate the obsessional heightening in late Proust, nor to spring a redemption on us. His nature is to be uniform: there is hardly a ragged edge or an un-calculated incongruity anywhere in this urbane discourse, where the catastrophes are never witnessed, only inferred from scenes in themselves comic. If the new characters have not quite the flavour of the earlier Gileses and Jeavonses, and the range of the social panorama now appears less than it once seemed, the flow of reappearances and transformations is powerful enough to carry the series through that "Dance to the Music of Time" whose discipline and formal rhythm do recall Poussin, the artist its title invokes: except that it is a great deal more fun.