A Comedian Dies Paperback – 1990
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Actor Charles Paris witnesses the murder of an up-and-coming, but not nice, comedian. Confronting almost every character with an accusation of murder, Paris has the curiosity and perseverance just right for an amateur detective. Frederick Davidson catches the perfect ironic and self-deprecating tone for Paris. Davidson's excellent portrayal of the classes of people found in the British television studio and vaudeville hall greatly contributes to the enjoyment of this mystery. A great choice for Brett fans or anyone who enjoys audio mysteries. T.R. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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If you have read any of the other books in Simon Brett's Charles Paris series of mysteries, you will already know just how easy these mysteries are to solve. It is very unusual for me not to guess the killer in one of these books within the first 50 pages, and this book was no exception (as an aside, this is not the case for all of Brett's novels, and in fact, one of Brett's non-series books, "Dead Romantic", is an excellent example of a mystery, and it kept me guessing right to the end). However, you don't read Charles Paris novels for the mystery elements. The mystery is just there to provide a structure to another story of life in the entertainment industry, and that is where Brett's strength lies. Prior to becoming a novelist, Brett worked in the entertainment industry and his stories of what it is really like are both fascinating and hilarious. In this instalment, Brett writes about stand-up comedy and comedy variety shows. The book was written in 1979, so some of the references are a bit dated, but not so much that it matters. This is one of the better Charles Paris novels.
As an amateur detective in this one Charles flails around picking one suspect after another for the electrocution murder of comedian Bill Peaky. The acerbic Peaky was disliked by everyone who knew him. In a Robert Barnard or Simon Brett British mystery it's almost a tradition that the murder victim is universally despised by the other characters in the story.
Charles in his detective chores spends a lot of time drinking, and he gets most of his information in bars and pubs. Charles is now fifty, and at the beginning has reconciled with his estranged wife Frances, but as usual the reconciliation only lasts a few days. He is still saddled with Maurice, the laziest talent agent in England. He uses his solicitor friend Gerald to help him in his snooping.
This book isn't as good as some other Brett outings because Charles goes through so many false starts interviewing and accusing one suspect after the other. The case is solved when he runs out of suspects. He's too much of a hit and miss sleuth in this one. What is insightful is the comedic battle of generations, the old vaudeville masters versus the slick TV personalities with their battery of writers.
Charles and Francis are taking a vacation together to see if they can fix their marriage. While attending a variety show in the seaside town where they are staying, the lead comedian is electrocuted. Violent death never seems to be far from Charles! Naturally, he refuses to believe that the death is an accident and begins to investigate it.
In the show is an old comedian who is well past his hayday and looking to get back on top. His partner in his old comedy routine has been dead for a long time and through the course of events Charles is asked to reproduce that part which gives him an opportunity to stay involved with all the suspects.
No one involved in the story is likeable except Charles. They all seem to be show business stereotypes that would be unpleasant to be around. As always, Simon Brett nails his characters and they are imminently believable. There is a lot of discussion about what is funny, what comedy is and how comedians work. I found this to be quite enlightening. Simon Brett knows his show business!