I think it’s probably par for the course that when one purchases a Kindle, the first thing one does is trawl Amazon looking for cheap (or preferably free) books to fill it up with. A potentially dangerous occupation, but fun, nonetheless.
Simon Brett has been writing mystery novels, amongst other things, since 1975. This is his first book, the first to feature his long-running reluctant sleuth Charles Paris, a generally down-on-his-luck actor. The first two books in the series, this and So Much Blood, are available on Kindle for about a quid each, so, as I’d enjoyed The Body On The Beach and Death On The Downs, I thought I’d give this one a try.
I will admit though, it was a slightly wary try as I’ve read the last Charles Paris book, Dead Room Farce and didn’t particularly enjoy it. This could, of course, be put down to Brett tiring of his character. While it’s not a “Last Case” book, he hasn’t written about Paris since 1995. So, does the beginning of the series paint a different picture?
The story concerns Paris attempting to help out a young lady friend – she is being blackmailed after being photographed at a… shall we say adult party, cavorting with her lover, a successful impressario. As Charles investigates the blackmailers, as he realises they still possess the negatives, one of them is found dead. When the impresario is also found dead, presumably from a heart attack, the race is on to sort out re-written wills and protect his unborn baby…
The thing to appreciate here is that Brett clearly knows the sort of people that he writes about. As a scriptwriter, he must have come into contact with a host of Paris-types and his cohorts, so I presume that the gossipy bits in the book have a reflection of truth in them. The life of a jobbing actor can’t be a fun one when things aren’t going well, but I found it hard to empathise with Paris. He’s a bit of an arse, really – he drops in on his ex-wife (who he walked out on) for a bit of… comfort, shall we say, which seems really fickle to me, but seems overly protective of his lady friend, to the extent of risking his life for her. Generally he’s written as a decent bloke, but he does seem to dive head-first into investigating what is going on without really needing a prompt. Generally, he does the right thing, although given the risk to the impresario’s unborn baby, he’s more than happy to spend a couple of days filming a zombie film while assuming his friend – who’s life has been attempted once already – will be safe.
The mystery is pretty slight, to be honest. The villain of the piece is pretty obvious, but then they are clearly supposed to be. The mystery is really what actually is going on, but even then, it’s the sort of thing that would form part of a plot in a traditional mystery, combined with a whodunit element. As such, even though the villain’s identity becomes clearer as the story progresses, you’re hoping for a surprise, but, I’m sorry to say, it doesn’t really come.
The book is a decent read and I know Charles Paris has a number of devoted followers out there, but I think I’m going to need a guarantee of more of a mystery before I revisit him. With Brett’s Fethering Mysteries, I’ll go back because I like the characters – but not being a member of the acting community, I’m not convinced that I want to spend much more time with Charles.
Oh, one last gripe. The title promises so much more that the plot – doesn’t it sound to you as if it’s about a play where actors are being bumped off, one by one?