An intro to Charles Paris/Simon Brett: Let me just be up front about it. I’ve long been a fan of Simon Brett’s Charles Paris series of mysteries. He’s written, by my count, seventeen of them over the years. FYI: He also writes at least two other series: Mrs. Pargeter and the Feathering Mysteries, both of which I have yet to explore.
Why was I initially drawn to this series? Because Charles Paris, the amateur detective, is an actor in England, and I have worked in the theater all of my life. Charles regularly works in regional theaters and on the occasional television series. He’s slightly dissipated, indulging in a little too much after rehearsal drinking in the local pub. He has a rare honesty about his profession and his work. Frequently to be found throughout the text are references to past less-than-stellar reviews of his performances. He’s basically a good man who can’t quite handle the responsibilities of marriage – and he is married – who overindulges and then regrets it, and copes with the ups and downs of being a working actor. He, of course, also finds himself caught up in murder and mayhem, and just like the crossword puzzles he loves to solve, he has a taste for solving murders.
I’ve read all of the Charles Paris mysteries. But for a while there, Brett was concentrating on his other series, so Charles Paris remained absent from the scene. With 2013’s A Decent Interval and this, his newest, Charles is back. I couldn’t be happier.
About the book: Landing a minor part in the Empire Theatre Eastbourne’s Christmas Production of Cinderella, Charles Paris soon discovers that his main role is to gently introduce the show’s baffled American star, famous sitcom actor Kenny Polizzi, to the bizarre customs of English Pantomime.
During their convivial sessions in the local pub, Charles finds himself increasingly caught up in Polizzi’s tangled affairs as the American fends off a vengeful soon-to-be-ex-wife, an obsessed groupie, and a barely controlled drink problem. But Charles is about to be far more involved than he might wish when he stumbles across a body beneath Eastbourne Pier, a neat bullet hole in the center of the forehead.
As the world’s press descends on Eastbourne, the pantomime rehearsals descend into chaos and he himself comes under suspicion, it’s up to Charles to put his renowned sleuthing skills to the test to find out who really killed his fellow cast member – and why.
My review: Once again, Simon Brett shows his considerable writing skills as he navigates an actor’s life in the theater and a complex mystery, to boot. He paints a picture of the seaside town of Eastbourne that is detailed and vivid. He also paints a very realistic (trust me) picture of what it is like to be part of a cast of actors living away from home, getting used to a new environment, and trying to put up a show in an impossibly short amount of rehearsal time.
Charles, Brett’s inimitable creation, is a solid (maybe not inspired) working actor, who often finds himself embroiled in a mystery. His sleuthing skills just might surpass his acting skills, however, because he has a curious nature and an analytical one at that. Warts and all, Charles is a wonderful creation. I find myself wanting to sit in a pub with him and chat for several hours.
His observations about the change in television fare (apparently England also suffers from a glut of ‘reality’ shows) and about the grand tradition of the English Pantomime are a delight. I find myself chuckling out loud frequently when I read a Charles Paris mystery. In A Decent Interval, Charles comments about how it used to be you went out with your fellow actors to the pub after a rehearsal, and on your breaks, chatted with each other. Now everyone runs to the gym and pulls out a smart phone to check their email and send texts.
Exactly what I’ve observed. In fact, I’ve mentioned it to my husband many times.
This particular plot has twists and turns and, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t at all sure who the killer was until the last minute. Since many of Brett’s observations are dryly humorous and the writing flows so effortlessly, it’s easy to miss just how good he is at what he does. He knows how to tell a story, weaving in the supporting characters, laying in a clue here and there, all the while giving us an honest view of the working actor’s life – a life that can often be quite lonely and daunting.
You don’t have to be in the theater to enjoy this wonderful series. The stories are truly delightful, as well as enthralling.
I think you’ll like Simon Brett and Charles Paris.
About the author: Simon Brett is a prolific British writer of whodunits. He is the son of a Chartered Surveyor and was educated at Dulwich College and Wadham College, Oxford, where he got a first class honours degree in English.
He then joined the BBC as a trainee and and worked for BBC Radio and London Weekend Television, where his work included ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and ‘Frank Moore Goes Into…’
After his spells with the media, he began devoting most of his time to writing from the late 1970s and is well-known for his various series of crime novels.
He is married with three children and lives in Burpham, near Arundel, West Sussex, England. He is the current president of the Detection Club.
I purchased this book myself.