The Cinderella Killer by Simon Brett
In The Cinderella Killer by Simon Brett (Severn House, 2014) our heroic actor and sleuth, Charles Paris, treads the boards for the nineteen time. As it’s coming up to Christmas, Paris is fortunate to be offered work in Pantoland, better known as Eastbourne. The producers are cooking up a traditional offering of celebrities and people who appear on television as the headliners. Ignoring the presence of the real members of the acting profession, these tent-poles proceed to make a meal of theatrical conventions. Indeed, on the first day of rehearsal, Paris gets to tell the ex-television star sojourning from America, all he needs to know about British pantomime. For reasons unclear at the outset, our renegade from the Colonies has beaten a retreat from America to play the part of Baron Hardup in Cinderella. He seems not to have been aware of the precise nature of the role before accepting the part. But this is not really a concern. He’s being well-paid to allow his name to appear outside the theatre and as the top name on the billing. Kenny Polizzi is in lights to encourage fans of his now cancelled show to buy tickets and ogle him in the flesh. Surprisingly, he throws himself into the role with something approximating enthusiasm, particularly when he gets to reinvent the story to include an acting style with which he’s familiar.
We’re also treated to a nicely catty television interview with our fallen star which indicates where the feet of clay may be buried (forgive the mixed metaphors). As the introductory sequence proceeds, we meet the rather cosmopolitan cast (including both actors in fact and from television, a stand-up comedian, boxers, and those who dance). Kenny’s agent who may be giving his client some protection, enters from stage lefty, and not so all-righty, we hear news that Kenny’s current wife may may also be about to put in an appearance (Oh, no she isn’t! Oh, yes she is! Repeat for effect as required).
As you would expect in a Simon Brett novel, some of the jokes are excellent. I particularly like the change in punctuation and spelling for the couplet from the Broker’s Men. Overall there’s a quietly pleasing wryness to the descriptions of the theatrical world and of Charles Paris as he charts an unsteady progress through it. The social problems of the acting community, in the case of our hero, aggravated by his taste for Bells, are sharply exposed. This time with illumination shed on the travails of those who work on the other side of the Pond. Kenny has a past, goes through big-money divorces when he can afford them, and has his very own stalker. It’s tough having a face that’s launched a thousand episodes of a long-running television series. So it no doubt comes as a shock to him that someone might actually want to kill him (although the expression on the body found under the pier appears slightly more calm than shocked). So now all our hero has to do is pick one of the many possible suspects who might have done the dirty deed, all the while coping with the emotions he feels after his wife announces she might have cancer. Indeed, this time around, what with it being Christmas and a time when the loneliness of a B&B makes a man look back on a wasted life as an actor with a tear in his eye, he does wonder whether he might try to resurrect his marriage to the long-suffering Frances. Quite whether she would tolerate the idea is left nicely ambiguous.
The mystery itself is elegantly structured with our bloodhound following the trail from one body to the next with unerring accuracy. The police are intrigued by him happening to find two dead people. Three would be stretching credibility just a little. The only minor complaint is the element of coincidence as we come into the final stretch, but it’s something I can note and pass on by. I mellow as I grow older. Really the case all depends on the order in which things happen. It’s one of these plots that flirts with the obvious but plays the game of bluff and double-bluff so well, it doesn’t really matter whether you got the right answer or not. It’s fun arriving at the end. So I recommend this book to anyone who knows a little about pantomime and wants all the inside dope on how these productions are put together in rehearsal and emerge fully fledged on to stage in time for the Christmas season. The Cinderella Killer is knowingly precise and engagingly amusing on its way to solving the odd murder or two.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.