A 1001 MIDNIGHTS Review
by Newell Dunlap & Bill Pronzini

SIMON BRETT – A Comedian Dies. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1979. Reprint paperbacks include: Berkley, 1980; Dell, 1986; Warner, 1990. UK edition: Victor Gollancz, hardcover, 1979.

SIMON BRETT A Comedian Dies

   Making good use of his background in radio and television, and of his interest in the theater, Simon Brett has created one of the most likable characters among recent series sleuths: Charles Paris, a middle-aged and not very successful radio actor whose vices include drink, women, and stumbling into murder cases that he is forced to solve.

   The Paris novels are distinguished by solid plotting, well-drawn entertainment business backgrounds, and a nice interweaving of humor that often borders on spoof.

   One of the first things the reader of A Comedian Dies, which has a modem British vaudeville background, will notice is that there is a gag at the beginning of each chapter. A gag such as:

   Feed: I heard on the radio this morning that the police are looking for a man with one eye.

   Comic: Typical inefficiency.

   Having discovered this, most readers will no doubt be tempted to flip through the book and read all of the gags immediately, like gulping popcorn. You should refrain from doing this, however. Taken one at a time, every dozen pages or so, each will provoke an amused and tolerant groan; taken all at once, they are sort of like listening to a Bob Hope monologue and may therefore cause severe trauma, if not a sudden desire to take up golf or vote Republican.

SIMON BRETT A Comedian Dies

   On the other hand, the novel itself is worth reading all at once. Paris and his estranged wife, Frances, trying once again to mend their marriage, are attending a vaudeville show at the Winter Gardens in Hunstanton, a small English seacoast town. But the show the star performer, comedian Bill Peaky, puts on is not at all what Paris anticipated: Peaky is electrocuted on stage while clutching his electric guitar and microphone.

   At the inquest, the coroner decides the death was accidental, due to faulty wiring, but Paris has his doubts and starts an investigation of his own. Suspects abound, owing to the fact that Peaky was not a very popular fellow. Paris is something of a bumbler, which only enhances his appeal; and he does get to the bottom of things eventually, in spite of the eighteen gags Brett throws at him along the way.

   Feed: Do you know, they say that whisky kills more people than bullets.

   Comic: Ah well, that’s because bullets don’t drink.

   Reprinted with permission from 1001 Midnights, edited by Bill Pronzini & Marcia Muller and published by The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2007.   Copyright © 1986, 2007 by the Pronzini-Muller Family Trust.