After I completed last year’s Vintage Mystery Challenge, Bev at My Reader’s Block was kind enough to send me – all the way from the US, mind you – a book from her collection. I chose this 1987 mystery which, as well as being on the CWA top 100 list, also qualifies for 2014’s Vintage Mystery Challenge (Category: A book set in the entertainment world).
What Bloody Man is the 12th story to feature Charles Paris, and opens with that boozy actor in his natural environment – drinking Bell’s Whiskey in a theatre bar.
Charles has been saved from a prolonged period of resting by an offer of a part in a production of Macbeth at the Pinero Theatre, Warminster. Charles has an interesting perspective on the available roles in the play.
Hmm, trouble with Banquo was, he did tend to fade away in the second half… Excellent part, though, for nipping off to the pub after the interval and just staggering back in time for the curtain call […] Or what about Duncan… ? Charles wondered. He’s certainly a good boozer’s part… gets killed off good and early… Trouble is, though, he hasn’t got many lines, and directors have a nasty habit of doubling him with the Scottish Doctor in the Sleepwalking Scene, which really wreaks havoc with your drinking…
In the end, Charles gets lumbered with a number of bit parts, including the Scottish Doctor (not to mention the English Doctor), the Bleeding Sergeant, the Drunken Porter, the Third Murderer, and soldiers on both sides in the battle scenes. Still, a job’s a job, and Charles is in no position to turn down work. Plus, he loves it.
The actors pulled together by the intellectually shallow but eminently practical director Gavin Scholes are a real mix. Macbeth is to be played by a George Birkett, a prominent sitcom actor who has forgotten all his stagecraft and can’t remember his lines. Lady M is Felicia Chatterton, a young actress recently released into the ‘real world’ by the RSC. The resplendently named Warnock Belvedere, a nasty old thespian, plays Duncan.
A mountainous man propped up on a silver-topped walking stick swayed near the door. He wore a shapeless suit of thick checked tweed over a bottle-green waistcoat across which a watch-chain hung pretentiously.
The cast is rounded out by acting tyro Russ Lavery, and Charles’ old friend John B. Murgatroyd. Also present are Sandra and George Phipps, the self-destructive couple who run the theatre bar, and their teenage son.
And one or more of them kills Belvedere. The unfortunate Charles, locked in the theatre for the night after an ill-advised binge, finds the old ham dead in the bar’s store room with a bottle of brandy in his hand.
The police initially think it’s a case of misadventure but Charles suspects otherwise – and if the police change their mind, he’ll be the prime suspect. So he sets to work investigating alibis. As an additional incentive to crack the case, Charles decides to stay dry until he has identified the culprit. Although he finds it difficult to survive on:
grapefruit juice, cherryade, Tizer and other highly priced and highly sweetened fluids.
Charles soon begins to see parallels between the play and the killing, but who should he cast as First Murderer?
This is a very likeable book (as are most of Brett’s titles). The writing is witty – ‘sitcoms too humorous to mention’ is a nice little one-liner – and Charles is a good protagonist. He retains some ironic distance from the acting profession, which makes him a clear-sighted commenter on the foibles of his colleagues, but he is clearly a committed and experienced professional. And he is not 100% cynical.
… he knew that silly bubble of hope trapped inside all actors, which can burst to the surface through any amount of logic and commonsense.
All in all, a good light read. Recommended.
Final destination: A keeper. Thanks Bev!
Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.