Gillian Reynolds Telepgraph UK
"Charles Paris, the original creation of Simon Brett, exists in 17 novels. Brett was 28, working as a producer at BBC radio, when he first imagined him. Surveying his small pile of unpublished manuscripts he thought he’d try writing something other people might want to read. Up to then he’d been terrified of crime fiction, the perils of holes in the plot, the matching of character to dialogue. From his day job, working with lots of actors, came the idea of a fictional actor, middle-aged, resting more often than working, with a hopeless private life but the kind of cunning that solves crimes."
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Ed here: F. Scott Fitzgerald once noted that his sometime friend Ernest Hemingway spoke with the "authority of success" while he, Fitzgerald, spoke "with the authority of failure."
I've always imagined that Charles Paris was a background player in Fitzgerald's best work--a man of no particular note who drank at Gatby's mansion, perhaps. A bit old for the rest of the crowd but earnestly pursuing young women who, like him, were of no particular note, either, his charm not nearly as frayed as his suits. A man who knows all about "the authority of failure."
Most of us have favorite fictional detectives and Charles Paris has always been one of mine. He's a decent man adrift in drink and long years, the very things that help him solve crimes. He's drunk it all and seen it all so it's dfficult to deceive him.
Most of the early Paris novels I've read three or four times over the years. The later ones are very good, too, but I'm partial to the first five because Simon Brett was learning about Charles right along with his readers. If Charles was a bit inconsistent from book to book on occasion, that just made him more human.
The books are packed with the lore of theater and radio in particular. Brett is such a deft storyteller that his backgrounds never slow the pacing even though they always play vital roles in the plot itself. Brett obviously reveres working actors like Charles. The pubs where they drink, the dusty offices of their agents, the old friends who still manage to get the kind of work that eludes Charles... Brett makes the workaday world as interesting and entertaining as the murders.
Brett has a good ear and a good heart and it's always amusing to watch him go up against some of the more irritating aspects of modern media culture. God knows he never wants for targets.
It's a funny thing about Charles Paris. Of all the fictional detectives I've encountered over my lifetime he's the only one I imagine to be a real person. Brett has given him vivid life and me a long shelf of excellent mystery novels.