Charles Paris, a mostly out-of-work actor and part-time sleuth, first appeared in Simon Brett’s Cast, In Order Of Disappearance in 1975, and followed this with sixteen more appearances until Dead Room Farce in 1998, before exiting, presumably stage left, with nary a word of farewell. Now, fifteen years later – A Decent Interval indeed – Charles has returned in a new adventure.
The horror that is reality televison has produced a search for a Shakespearean starlet to play Ophelia in a touring production of Hamlet and Charles has managed to snag the roles of the Ghost and First Gravedigger. Not due to his talent, such as it is, but due to the fact that since Hamlet is also being played by a reality star – this one not even an actor – the rest of the cast has been hired due to the fact that they are known to be biddable and will not cause a fuss.
But someone is causing a fuss. An “accident” causes the show to lose one cast member and soon another lies dead. Charles inevitably sticks his nose in – but with virtually everyone having a motive, from the cast to the production crew, will he ever get to the bottom of the case – or will he stick to exploring the bottom of whisky bottles?
Something odd has happened here. Tell you what, pop over to read my review of Cast, In Order Of Disappearance, and you’ll see that my biggest problem with the book was Charles himself. I didn’t particularly like the character and that was inevitably colouring my view of the book. I do li, ke Brett’s writing – the mystery is never too taxing, but he writes with a good sense of humour, but I found Charles an unlikeable lead.
That seems to have changed here. Charles is the same character – an alcoholic, somewhat deluded about his own talents as an actor, and hardly the world’s greatest sleuth either. But in this book, I was totally engrossed in his adventures. It may well be that I share his (and presumably Brett’s) opinions of reality television, but I found myself really empathising with the character, in particular with his doomed battle with the bottle. I found myself willing Charles to sort himself out… it’s been a while since I’ve read a book with a lead that felt so real.
The mystery? Well, that was pretty well done as well. I completely missed something obvious and while the plot isn’t complicated or revolutionary, it pulled the wool over my eyes and I wanted to kick myself when the villain is revealed. So, from my point of view, exactly what I want to happen with a mystery.
So, all in all, a great read, a real page-turner and, while not a comic mystery, it is genuinely funny in places. One of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Highly Recommended.
WHERE CAN I GET IT?
Ah, there’s the rub. Go and pester your library as the publishers, Severn House, tend to produce high priced books for that market. It’s out on 1st July but currently is on Amazon for a not-small price. But I’m sure your library will be more than happy to get the latest from Simon Brett. It can’t hurt to ask.
And if you can’t get hold of it, then take solace in the fact that ALL of Simon Brett’s Charles Paris mysteries are available for Kindle at approximately £3.50 a pop. And on the strength of this one, I’ll be checking out some of Charles’ older adventures soon.