Although I’ve read several books from Simon Brett’s hilarious Blotto and Twinks series, this was my first encounter with his principal series featuring Charles Paris, an unsuccessful actor, with a predilection for alcohol. This novel centres on a production of Macbeth, which is foreshadowed in the title. In this story, it is our amateur sleuth Charles Paris who is the Bloody Man in the play, along with a few other parts…. the drunken porter, the English doctor, the Scottish doctor, an old man, the third murderer, the sewer, an armed head (which comes out of cauldron) and two soldiers one on each opposing side. Paris’ plethora of parts is a running gag throughout the tale. Other key members of the production include:
• Gavin Scholes, director;
• George Birkitt, a big name in TV sitcoms, who is playing Macbeth;
• Felicia Chatterton, who is used to RSC productions and as her surname implies she enjoys talking, a lot, mostly about the motivations of the character she is playing, Lady Macbeth;
• Warnock Belvedere, an old school actor, larger than life on and off stage, who is playing the smaller role of Duncan;
• Russ Lavery playing other smaller roles, fresh from acting school and who soon becomes a devotee of Felicia;
• Sandra Phipps, wife of Norman, a box office manager who is fond of innuendos and tight clothing;
• Norman Phipps, barman at the theatre. Fundamental part of the production in Charles’ eyes due to his love of drinking which runs to the extent that he judges acting parts based on their opportunities to nip off for a drink in the middle of the play;
• Stewart Phipps, Norman and Sandra’s teenage son, who is cast to play Macduff’s son.
Unsurprisingly, arguments and quarrels soon infect the rehearsals, primarily fuelled by Warnock, who gives many members of the cast good reasons to hate him. He consistently upstages everyone in the scenes he is in, demanding full attention, ignoring and criticising any ideas Gavin has. He insults other actors such as Charles and even worse for Felicia he is incredibly rude and sexist towards her. Equally his attempts to make passes at Russ, are not well received either. Before the production begins, Warnock, almost prophetically says,
‘Something always goes wrong with a production of the Scottish Play. Accident… illness… death… murder even.’
And indeed Warnock was absolutely correct, though I doubt he saw himself cast as the murder victim… the reader of course has been waiting for it to happen, knowing someone that offensive is bound to get bumped off.
The murder in question happens after a particularly unpleasant and difficult day of rehearsal, with Felicia threatening to leave the production if Warnock does not. After a long evening drinking session Charles finds himself in his dressing room, having fallen asleep. Still fairly intoxicated he attempts to find an exit, but in doing so he comes across something far more unpleasant… Warnock, his skin tinged with purple, his clothes soaked in alcohol on the floor of the bar storeroom. At first Warnock’s death is considered an accident, but this is changed after information received by Charles, leading the police to also consider murder. The downside for Charles though is that it makes him number one suspect, being the only person known to have been in the building at the right time. This causes Charles to pursue some of his own lines of inquiry, through conversations with others. As he questions the other members of the production, Charles’ suspicion vacillates, moving from person to person, yet the actual solution conveniently comes to Charles in a light bulb moment, along with a helpful confession from the murderer, which did rather let the novel down. The plot of Macbeth alongside the importance of minor characters in the book is central to the solution of the mystery.
The theatre world is well portrayed, especially showing the contrast between new actors and old hands with added humour from the dialogue of the characters playing minor roles, who make a ‘parody of thespian intensity’. Connecting to this is the fact that nothing is taken very seriously in this book such as although Charles does want to repair his marital problems, even going sober for a record 8-9 days, he redemption lacks any staying power. Equally, once the crime has been solved the novel ends on a performance of the play where the immature natures of the cast is given full reign. One element I didn’t enjoy in the book was the sexist comments made against Felicia. Although perhaps ripe for mocking in the novel, as the most serious minded character in this comic crime book, the humour against her is rather unpleasant and focused on sex. However, this is probably down to individual taste.
Rating: 3/5 (Although the narrative voice and dialogue is on the whole entertaining and well written, the solution to crime is too hurriedly delivered and a tad too convenient. In my opinion Paris doesn’t do sufficient detection and the sexist comments, were also not for me).