Brett, Simon 1945- (Simon Anthony Lee Brett)
Brett, Simon 1945- (Simon Anthony Lee Brett)
Born October 28, 1945, in Worcester Park, Surrey, England; son of John (a surveyor) and Margaret (a school teacher) Brett; married Lucy Victoria McLaren, November 27, 1971; children: Sophie Victoria McLaren, two sons. Education: Wadham College, Oxford, B.A. (first class honors), 1967. Religion: "Some."
Home and office—Arundel, West Sussex, England. Agent—Michael Motley, 78 Gloucester Ter., London W2 3HH, England.
Writer. British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), London, England, radio producer, 1968-77; London Weekend Television, London, television producer, 1977-79.
Writers Guild of Great Britain, 1973, for best radio feature script; Broadcasting Press Guild award, 1987.
A Shock to the System, Scribner (New York, NY), 1985.
Dead Romantic, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
The Three Detectives and the Missing Superstar (juvenile), Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
The Three Detectives and the Knight in Armor (juvenile), Scribner (New York, NY), 1987.
The Christmas Crimes at Puzzle Manor, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1992.
Singled Out, Scribner (New York, NY), 1995.
"CHARLES PARIS" MYSTERY SERIES
Cast, in Order of Disappearance, Scribner (New York, NY), 1975.
So Much Blood, Scribner (New York, NY), 1976.
Star Trap, Scribner (New York, NY), 1977.
An Amateur Corpse, Scribner (New York, NY), 1978.
A Comedian Dies, Scribner (New York, NY), 1979.
The Dead Side of the Mike, Scribner (New York, NY), 1980.
Situation Tragedy, Scribner (New York, NY), 1981.
Murder Unprompted, Scribner (New York, NY), 1982.
Murder in the Title, Scribner (New York, NY), 1983.
Not Dead, Only Resting, Scribner (New York, NY), 1984.
Dead Giveaway, Scribner (New York, NY), 1986.
What Bloody Man Is That?, Scribner (New York, NY), 1987.
A Series of Murders, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.
Corporate Bodies, Scribner (New York, NY), 1992.
Four Complete Mysteries (contains An Amateur Corpse, Star Trap, So Much Blood, and Cast in Order of Disappearance), Wings Books (New York, NY), 1993.
A Reconstructed Corpse, Scribner (New York, NY), 1994.
Sicken and So Die, Scribner (New York, NY), 1995.
Dead Room Farce, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
"MRS. PARGETER" MYSTERY SERIES
A Nice Class of Corpse, Macmillan (London, England), 1986, Scribner (New York, NY), 1987.
Mrs, Presumed Dead, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.
Mrs. Pargeter's Package, Scribner (New York, NY), 1991.
Mrs. Pargeter's Pound of Flesh, Scribner (New York, NY), 1993.
Mrs. Pargeter's Plot, Scribner (New York, NY), 1998.
Mrs. Pargeter's Point of Honour, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.
"FETHERING" MYSTERY SERIES
The Body on the Beach, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2000.
Death on the Downs, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2001.
The Torso in the Town, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2002.
Murder in the Museum, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2003.
The Hanging in the Hotel, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2004.
The Witness at the Wedding, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2005.
The Stabbing in the Stables, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2006.
Death under the Dryer, Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2007.
Mrs. Gladys Moxon, first produced in London, England, at the Soho Theatre, May 19, 1970.
Did You Sleep Well? [and] A Good Day at the Office, first produced in London, England, 1971.
Third Person, first produced in London, England, 1972.
Drake's Dream (musical), first produced in Worthing, Sussex, and London, England, 1977.
Murder in Play, S. French (New York, NY), 1994.
Mr. Quigley's Revenge, S. French (New York, NY), 1995.
Silhouette, S. French (New York, NY), 1998.
A Bad Dream, S. French (New York, NY), 2004.
Author of radio scripts Semi-Circles series, 1982; Gothic Romances, 1982; A Matter of Life and Death, 1982; Cast, in Order of Disappearance (based on his novel of the same title), 1983; So Much Blood (based on his novel of the same title), 1985; After Henry, 1985; and Molesworth (series), 1987.
Author of television scripts The Crime of the Dancing Duchess, 1983; A Promising Death, 1983; and After Henry (series), 1988-90.
The Faber Book of Useful Verse, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1981.
(With Frank Muir) Frank Muir Presents the Book of Comedy Sketches, Elm Tree Books (London, England), 1982.
Take a Spare Truss: Tips for Nineteenth-Century Travelers, Elm Tree Books (London, England), 1983.
The Faber Book of Parodies, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1984.
Bad Form: The Etiquette of Bad Taste, David & Charles (New York, NY), 1984, published as Bad Form; or, How Not to Get Invited Back, Elm Tree Books (London, England), 1984.
The Faber Book of Diaries, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1987.
The Detection Collection, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
Frank Muir Goes Into …, (four volumes), Robson Books (London, England), 1978-81.
(Compiler, with others) Frank Muir on Children, Heinemann (London, England), 1980.
Molesworth Rites Again, Hutchinson (London, England), 1983.
The Child Owner's Handbook, Allen & Unwin (London, England), 1983.
(Illustrator) Walter Shewring, Translations and Poems, wood engravings by Simon Brett, Paulinus Press (Marlborough, England), 1984.
People-Spotting: The Human Species Laid Bare, illustrated by Wendy Hutton, Elm Tree Books (London, England), 1985.
Tickled to Death, and Other Stories of Crime and Suspense, Scribner (New York, NY), 1985, published as A Box of Tricks: Short Stories, Gollancz (London, England), 1985.
The Waste Paper Basket Archive, Sidgwick & Jackson (London, England), 1986.
After Henry (novelization of radio series), Viking (London, England), 1987.
The Booker Book (on the Booker Prize), Sidgewick & Jackson (London, England), 1989.
(Contributor and author of postscript) Reynolds Stone, selector, Wood Engravings of Gwen Raverat, Silent Books (Cambridge, England), 1989.
How to Be a Little Sod, Gollancz (London, England), 1992.
Engravers Two: A Handbook Compiled for the Society of Wood Engravers, Silent Books (Cambridge, England), 1992.
Wood Engraving: How to Do It, Silent Books (Cambridge, England), 1994.
Look Who's Walking: Further Diaries of a Little Sod, Gollancz (London, England), 1994.
(With Sarah Brewer) The Hypochondriac's Dictionary of Ill Health, Headline (London, England), 1994.
(Author of book and lyrics) The Tale of Little Red Riding Hood: An Untraditional Pantomime (printed music), music by Sarah Travis, S. French (New York, NY), 1998.
The Penultimate Chance Saloon (novel), Toby Press (New Milford, CT), 2006.
Contributor to books, including Winter's Crimes 11, edited by George Hardinge, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1979; Mystery Guild Anthology, edited by John Waite, Constable (London, England), 1980; Winter's Crimes 12, Hilary Watson, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1980; Winter's Crimes 14, edited by Hilary Watson, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1982; and John Creasey's Crime Collection, 1982, edited by Herbert Harris, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1982. Contributor of stories to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
A Shock to the System was adapted as a film in 1990; several works have been adapted for audio, including Dead Room Farce, Murder Unprompted, Star Trap, Murder in the Title, Dead Romantic, A Box of Tricks, and Body on the Beach.
Simon Brett's novels concerning the struggling actor and amateur sleuth Charles Paris have brought his work to the attention of mystery fans in both England and America. They offer "the insider's view of show business," stated T.R. Steiner in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers. "Boredom makes Charles, like Sherlock Holmes, anxious," Steiner continued. "Nothing combats it for long—not sex, not detection, not even acting, and everyday professional practice is much more boring than exhilarating. With his talisman, a large Bell's whisky, Charles can anesthetize dullness and for the moment also evade the guilt for freedom that often vexes this very decent libertine." The critic concluded, "Brett's representation of contemporary British Boz Arts from the high West End to the desert of television sitcoms and game shows is acid and ceaselessly fascinating."
Brett's witty, ironic style and behind-the-scenes look at the world of English show business have been especially praised by reviewers. Richard Schickel wrote in Time: "What distinguishes [Paris's] adventures … is the author's wry observations of Britain's entertainment milieu. Brett has a farceur's eye for crooked agents and egomaniac stars, for performers elbowing their way up or trying to take the slide back down graciously, for network nitwits, [and] for creative geniuses unsung by anyone but themselves."
Brett's own career as a radio and television producer gives him a thorough knowledge of the entertainment world he writes about in his novels. He has produced and written television comedies, radio dramas, and stage plays, and has done some amateur acting as well. Brett's work with actors also gives him an insight into the problems they experience in their careers. His actor-sleuth Charles Paris has experienced the range of actor's problems. A promising star in the 1950s, Paris is now a small-time actor, consigned to character parts in the theatre and reduced to seeking minor television roles in programs he finds insulting. In Dead Giveaway, for example, he is asked to appear as a contestant on a television game show similar to What's My Line in which panelists must guess who he is and what he does for a living. The unstated insult, of course, is that Paris will be a challenging guest for them, since he is unknown to the general public. Paris "is resigned to the fact," Martha Alderson wrote in Clues: A Journal of Detection, "that his youthful dreams of fame were mostly just that."
Paris is in his early fifties, drinks a bit too much whiskey, "is cynical, usually depressed, half a step ahead of the Inland Revenue, and concerned about his sexual need for young starlets," as Alderson remarked. He happens upon mysteries in the course of his ongoing efforts to secure and hold acting jobs. These mysteries are of the traditional "puzzle" variety. To solve them, Paris is called upon to use his skills as an actor, often disguising himself in costumes and make-up to secure information from otherwise uncooperative witnesses. His adventures have taken place in a variety of show business settings. In A Comedian Dies, Paris investigates the electrocution of a performer at a seaside music hall. In Dead Giveaway, he looks into the poisoning of a media celebrity on the set of a popular television game show. And in The Dead Side of the Mike, Paris unravels the apparent suicide of a young woman in the radio studios of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
The Paris mysteries are written in a light, entertaining style and are as humorous as they are mysterious. Newgate Callendar of the New York Times Book Review noted that "there is a pronounced touch of irony in the Brett books; the author knows how to twist a knife." Brett's usual targets are the more absurd aspect of show business and he uses the voice of Paris, a dedicated patron of the arts despite his relative failure as an actor, to make his ironic points.
Brett's mysteries also present the world of entertainment in an accurate, almost documentary style. In a review of the novel Situation Tragedy, in which Paris lands a role on a new television program, Christian Science Monitor critic James Kaufmann wrote that "the strength of [the novel] is the very accurate picture it gives of the making of television shows. Ex-television producer Brett knows what he's talking about." Speaking of the novel Murder Unprompted, dealing with a murder in the West End theatre district, London Times reviewer Miranda Seymour noted that the story is primarily about Paris's efforts to secure a role in a stage play and only gradually becomes a murder mystery. She found that this approach gives the story "an underlying something extra to make it more satisfying than it might have been…. Let us hope the engaging Paris keeps his detective instinct always at least dormant while he reveals to us yet other aspects of the actor's world." In his review of Dead Giveaway, a novel set in a television studio, New York Times contributor John Gross claimed that Brett "manages to catch both the inanity of junk television and the amount of intensity that people invest in it, audiences and program-makers alike." Similarly, A Reconstructed Corpse tells the story of what happens when Paris is hired to play a missing man on a "real-crime" television show. "Charles's self-loathing has deepened," stated Marilyn Stasio in the New York Times Book Review, "and Mr. Brett's satirical edge has sharpened … in this witty but hardly frivolous series."
Brett introduced another mystery series main character in 1987 with the publication of A Nice Class of Corpse. The aging widow Melita Pargeter confronts mysteries and suspense with her own sense of panache. The first volume was followed by Mrs. Presumed Dead, Mrs. Pargeter's Package, and Mrs. Pargeter's Pound of Flesh. "Avoiding the treacly simpering typical of so many British cozy mysteries," wrote Peter Robertson in Booklist, "Brett keeps us chuckling with a steady stream of dryly noted cultural tidbits, while still supplying a wide-ranging plot that hangs together elegantly over a breathless 300 pages."
While both the "Charles Paris" and "Mrs. Pargeter" mysteries are witty and puzzling affairs, some of Brett's other mystery and suspense novels focus on a darker side of human nature. They feature weak characters who, when they experience an upset in their lives, can do nothing else but turn to crime. In A Shock to the System, for example, Brett's character Graham Marshall becomes a murderer when his career as an oil company executive seems threatened. Gary A. Steffen, in his review of the book for Armchair Detective, found it "a combination of fast, compelling read on one level and psychological novel on another…. This is an excellent novel, very well written, with tight construction and a fast-moving plot. It proves too that Simon Brett does not need his series character Charlie Paris to write effectively."
Singled Out is another of Brett's crime/suspense novels that do not rely on his series characters. It tells the story of "an over-controlled and controlling young woman," wrote Harriet Waugh in Spectator, "[who] decides to leave her husband to have a baby." She discovers that the man she chose to father her child is very likely a murderer, just like her own father. When her own son is accused of assaulting his girlfriend, she begins to wonder if the problem is hereditary. "What Brett does best," stated Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post Book World, "is to invent a reasonably complex plot that indeed contains psychological as well as actual suspense." Lorrie K. Inagaki, in Armchair Detective, commented: "This is a dark but fascinating portrait of a damaged woman trying to cope with life and failing miserably without even realizing it."
With Body on the Beach Brett introduced a new character, Carole Seddon, a fifty-something divorced woman, happy to look older than her years, recently forced into early retirement from the Home Office, and looking for a simple and peaceful existence. She chooses Fethering, a conservative English seaside village not far from Tarring. Of course, Brett does not allow her the serene existence she seeks: a new and somewhat unnerving neighbor named Jude moves in who is the antithesis of Carole. Soon after, while on her daily walk, Carole discovers a body washed up on the beach. The corpse disappears by the time the police arrive; they dismiss Carole as menopausal and hysterical. When a second body washes up, Jude convinces Carole they must do the sleuthing. "Carole and Jude have surprising depth as characters," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, who added "the yin/ yang relationship of the women is both mysterious and wholly believable, and the seacoast setting is so vivid you can taste the salty air."
Brett brings Carole and Jude back in Death on the Downs. In this sequel, Carole discovers a bag of human bones stored in a barn. Jude and Carole resume their amateur sleuthing to get to the bottom of the mystery. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly called Death on the Downs "fine entertainment," while Booklist critic Connie Fletcher noted that Brett's writing "makes you want both to savor the prose slowly and to turn the page quickly to find out what twist lies ahead."
The sleuthing duo of Jude and Carole return in The Torso in the Town, in which the dismembered body of a woman is discovered in the cellar of Pelling House, newly purchased by a London couple. The discovery comes during an upscale dinner party at which Jude is in attendance, and she quickly enlists her friend Carole's assistance in solving the crime for the local police are at sea trying to identify to the woman. For Carole, such a case is finely timed, for she has been moping after breaking off a relationship with the local pub owner. Soon a second corpse—that of the former owner of Pelling House—is found in the river, and the two amateur detectives are spurred into further action before the body count continues to grow. For a Kirkus Reviews critic The Torso in the Town was "genial if not memorable." A Publishers Weekly contributor was more favorably impressed, however, noting that Brett's "mordant wit has not lost its power to amuse in this third Fethering mystery." The same reviewer called the entire series "delightful."
In Murder in the Museum a skeleton is found at Bracketts House, once the domicile of a famous poet from World War I and now a museum in his honor. Carole is serving on the board of trustees of the house and when a skeleton is dug up on the grounds she is eager to solve this mystery in order to avoid scandal which could in turn harm funding. A second body soon turns up to complicate things; this is no skeleton, but a contemporary murder. Library Journal contributor Rex Klett found this a "noteworthy series addition." Fletcher, writing in Booklist, had further praise, calling this fourth installment a "deft mixture of history-mystery and contemporary thriller." Similarly, a Kirkus Reviews critic praised Brett's writing, which possesses "drollness and an edge Miss Marple never dreamed of." For a Publishers Weekly contributor, Murder in the Museum was both "chatty" and "genteel."
In their fifth outing, The Hanging in the Hotel, Jude and Carole take on the hanging death of a young man in a country house hotel. While all the guests and officials want to accept the death as a suicide, the sleuthing partners believe it is murder and investigate. Again, reviewers responded warmly to Brett's writing. A Publishers Weekly reviewer felt the novel "offers comfortable pacing and plenty of plot twists," while Booklist contributor Fletcher similarly applauded the "intricate plotting and wry comedy [that] make this the best Fethering yet."
Brett has also served as editor on numerous volumes, including the 2006 The Detection Collection, a gathering of eleven offerings from London's Detection Club, which includes stories by Colin Dexter, P.D. James, and H.R.F. Keating, among others. Booklist writer Fletcher called this a "quality anthology."
Brett displays his versatility as a writer with his 2006 departure from mysteries, The Penultimate Chance Saloon, a "comedy of sexual manners," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Bill Stratton, a sixty-ish television anchor nearing retirement, is shocked when his wife of forty years demands a divorce in order to marry an actor. But Bill soon takes his dismay to the dating game, amazed that his semi-celebrity as a television anchor has made him a winner with women. Instead of dreariness, divorce provides him with a sort of adolescent sexual awakening. A Kirkus Reviews critic found this change of pace for Brett a pleasing surprise, concluding: "Whatever your age, you'll have fun with this one." Fletcher, again writing in Booklist, also appreciated this diversion, noting that it presented "Brett at his witty and perceptive best."
All of Brett's novels display what Callendar called "a civilized patina to the writing." New Republic critic Robin Winks also described Brett as "a ‘civilized’ writer who puts neither a word wrong nor an unnecessary expletive under the nose of the fastidious." In an evaluation of Brett's career as a mystery writer, Winks claimed that "it is time to elevate Simon Brett from the Comers to those who have Made It."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Armchair Detective, winter, 1988, Gary A. Steffen, review of A Shock to the System, p. 92; summer, 1995, Lorrie K. Inagaki, review of Singled Out, p. 350.
Booklist, March 1, 1991, Peter Robertson, review of Mrs. Pargeter's Package, p. 1281; January 1, 1998, Ilene Cooper, review of Mrs. Pargeter's Plot, p. 780; August, 1998, David Pitt, review of Dead Room Farce, p. 1972; October 1, 1999, Emily Melton, review of Mrs. Pargeter's Point of Honour, p. 345; July, 2000, Connie Fletcher, review of The Body on the Beach, p. 2012; December 1, 2000, Mary McCay, review of Star Trap, p. 742; May 1, 2001, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of The Body on the Beach, p. 1617; July, 2001, Connie Fletcher, review of Death on the Downs, p. 1985; May 1, 2003, Connie Fletcher, review of Murder in the Museum, p. 1536; July, 2004, Connie Fletcher, review of The Hanging in the Hotel, p. 1823; May 1, 2005, David Pitt, review of The Hanging in the Hotel (audiobook), p. 1548; February 15, 2006, Connie Fletcher, review of The Penultimate Chance Saloon, p. 43; May 1, 2006, Connie Fletcher, review of The Detection Collection, p. 26.
Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 1982, James Kaufmann, review of Situation Tragedy.
Clues: A Journal of Detection, fall-winter, 1983, Martha Alderson, review of Dead Giveaway.
Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 1998, review of Dead Room Farce, p. 1069; September 1, 1999, review of Mrs. Pargeter's Point of Honour, p. 1352; June 15, 2002, review of The Torso in the Town, p. 839; July 15, 2003, review of Murder in the Museum, p. 938; June 1, 2004, review of The Hanging in the Hotel, p. 518; January 15, 2006, review of The Penultimate Chance Saloon, p. 62; April 1, 2006, review of The Detection Collection, p. 325.
Library Journal, January, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Mrs. Pargeter's Plot, p. 148; September 1, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Dead Room Farce, p. 123; October 1, 1999, review of Mrs. Pargeter's Point of Honour, p. 138; April 1, 2000, Theresa Connors, review of Dead Room Farce, p. 150; May 15, 2000, Theresa Connors, review of Murder Unprompted, p. 150; July, 2000, Rex Klett, review of The Body on the Beach, p. 146; January 1, 2001, Theresa Connors, review of Murder in the Title, p. 186; March 15, 2001, Theresa Connors, review of Dead Romantic, p. 126; May 1, 2001, Theresa Connors, review of A Box of Tricks: Short Stories, p. 143; May 15, 2001, Theresa Connors, review of The Body on the Beach, p. 180; August, 2003, Rex Klett, review of Murder in the Museum, p. 139; March 15, 2005, Theresa Connors, review of Murder in the Museum (audiobook), p. 123.
New Republic, October 27, 1979, Robin Winks, review of A Comedian Dies, p. 38.
New Yorker, September 2, 1985, review of Dead Giveaway.
New York Times, April 4, 1986, John Gross, review of Dead Giveaway, p. N21.
New York Times Book Review, September 23, 1979, Newgate Callendar, review of A Comedian Dies, p. 84; February 22, 1981, Newgate Callendar, review of The Dead Side of the Mike, p. 27; May 19, 1991, Marilyn Stasio, review of Mrs. Pargeter's Package, p. 45; July 3, 1994, Marilyn Stasio, review of A Reconstructed Corpse, p. 17; Janu- ary 11, 1998, Marilyn Stasio, review of Mrs. Pargeter's Plot, p. 19; October 11, 1998, review of Dead Room Farce, p. 28.
Publishers Weekly, October 25, 1985, review of Dead Giveaway; July 20, 1998, review of Dead Room Farce, p. 212; September 20, 1999, review of Mrs. Pargeter's Point of Honour, p. 78; July 24, 2000, review of The Body on the Beach, p. 72; July 23, 2001, review of Death on the Downs, p. 53; July 15, 2002, review of The Torso in the Town, p. 57; July 28, 2003, review of Murder in the Museum, p. 81; July 19, 2004, review of The Hanging in the Hotel, p. 148; January 30, 2006, review of The Penultimate Chance Saloon, p. 41; March 20, 2006, review of The Detection Collection, p. 40.
Spectator, February 22, 1986, review of Dead Giveaway, p. 28; April 13, 1991, review of Corporate Bodies, p. 36; May 6, 1995, Harriet Waugh, review of Singled Out, p. 45; August 15, 1998, review of Dead Room Farce, p. 35.
Time, October 1, 1979, Richard Schickel, review of A Comedian Dies, p. 90; July 7, 1986, review of Dead Romantic, p. 60.
Times (London, England), February 18, 1982, Miranda Seymour, review of Murder Unprompted.
Washington Post Book World, May 7, 1995, Jonathan Yardley, review of Singled Out, p. 3; September 20, 1998, review of Dead Room Farce, p. 6.
Who-Dunnit.com,http://www.who-dunnit.com/ (January 22, 2007), "Simon Brett," Alan Paul Curtis, review of The Hanging in the Hotel.