Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Dead Room Farce: a Charles Paris mystery by Simon Brett

Not an audiobook, but part of Audiobook Month nonetheless.  It’s about audiobooks… that counts, right?

Literary detectives are often ultra-intelligent, stylishly eccentric beings with an uncanny instinct for human behaviour.  Charles Paris, on the other hand, is an acutely insecure, sexually incontinent being with terminally poor judgment.  He’s not a bad person; in a way, that seems to be his trouble.  And for that reason you can’t help liking him, in a sad and faintly disgusted sort of way.  He’s the sort of character you’d like to pat gingerly on the shoulder.

In Dead Room Farce, Charles finds himself in yet another sticky situation.  He’s on tour in a good old-fashioned farce (something Brett describes with horrible accuracy) together with a truly gruesome cast of co-stars.  Secrets – and lies – abound.  Medically impossible amounts of alcohol are consumed.  The whole thing is thoroughly nasty, and you start wondering if you should have gone with something less unsettling, like H P Lovecraft or a history of the Borgia popes.

But Charles isn’t just spending night after night on stage with his trousers down.  An old friend, Mark Lear, has offered him a gig recording an audiobook.  And so Charles Paris, late and hungover, arrives at the recording studio to embark on a new sideline… and soon finds himself at the heart of a murder mystery involving a soundproof room, various terrible pasts, and an inventive use for wet newspaper.  (Poor Charles.  He never goes looking for trouble, or indeed anything but some work and another bottle of whisky.  It’s not his fault people seem to drop like flies wherever he goes.  British TV viewers will know this as “Mrs Barnaby Syndrome”).

The sections describing the recording process were actually my favourite part of this book.  I learned about things that had never occurred to me, like how hard it is to read the words “Side One – End of Side One” without any kind of intonation.  (Try it.  It really is tricky.)

Other than that, I’m not sure I would describe this book as enjoyable; it makes the skin crawl a little too much, even by the usual Charles Paris standards.  But as ever with Simon Brett, it’s a beautifully put together whodunnit with plenty of intrigue.  Worth reading, although perhaps not in one sitting.

Victor Gollancz, 207 pp., ISBN: 0 575 06488 9

7 comments on “Dead Room Farce: a Charles Paris mystery by Simon Brett

  1. Hilary
    September 9, 2010

    Does it count? It’s a brilliant find for audiobook month! Hilarious review – thanks for the reminder of ‘Mrs Barnaby syndrome’ – one of the cornerstones of British TV – when she joins the choral society and the conductor gets murdered all’s right with the world.

    If as i’m sure it does this novel has the inside track on how audiobooks are out together, I think I must read it.

    I know someone who once said, and I agreed, how alluring she found a favourite actor saying ‘End of Disc One’…

  2. Lisa
    September 9, 2010

    Hands up who’s now reciting: “Side One – End of Side One”.
    *blushes and raises hand*

    Great review, Kirsty. Nasty, unsettling, makes the skin crawl? Just up my street then 🙂

  3. annebrooke
    September 9, 2010

    Fabulous review, Kirsty! Though I suspect you may not entirely have cottoned on the Midsomer Murders Big Secret that it’s actually Mrs Barnaby who is the long-running serial killer … thus explaining why people often end up murdered when she’s around. Cunning, eh! And an excellent cover for her of course, being married to a policeman and all …

    🙂

    Anne

  4. litlove
    September 9, 2010

    How interesting! I tried Simon Brett once before – Murder in the Museum it would have been, and found it okay, sort of so-so. He seems quite a prolific writer and I’d very much like to give him another go. This series might be worth a look. And your review IS hilarious!

  5. Melrose
    September 9, 2010

    I think you’ve caught the character of Charles Paris spot on – a little bit icky, sordid and downtrodden by life but good hearted under it all. I usually enjoy Simon Brett, if I’m looking for some light reading, but this one I just couldn’t finish for some reason, and I evidently missed the wet newspaper bit, which sounds very intriguing…

  6. William
    September 10, 2010

    Charles Paris works better on radio for me than on the printed page. I find the novels very hard to get through mostly. [I put them down and quite often am in no rush to pick them up again!] It is a lovely and funny review though.

  7. Jackie
    September 10, 2010

    Quite a funny review, especially considering the topic. I like how you found a completely unique way of tackling the theme with this one. The adjectives you used makes me think I’m too wimpy for this one though. But the details of audiobook recording would be intriguing. How very modern for someone to use it in a plot.

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