Sunderland, MA, United States | Member Since 2010
I have enjoyed most of Simon Brett's British mysteries featuring the Scotch-swilling, self-destructive actor/detective Charles Paris. The series began, I believe, back in the 1970s, and for better or worse, Charles--turned 40 even back then--has aged almost realistically, and thus the series pretty much wound down. The good news is that there is no compelling reason to read the books in a particular order, or to read all of them. The best are very good indeed, and draw on the author's considerable background in British stage and television.
"A Comedian Dies" -- the show-biz double meaning is typical of this series -- centers on the comeback attempt of a brilliant vaudeville comic, Lenny Barber, whose best-known work was with a straight man -- a "feed" -- named Pole. Charles Paris is tapped to replace the long-deceased Pole in "The New Barber and Pole Show," which gets an unexpected chance to make the TV schedule when a rising young comedian who was to headline a new sitcom dies mid-act, electrocuted by his own microphone.
Charles is the first person to realize that the young man's death was actually murder, but remains oblivous to the increasingly obvious culprit. The ending, typical of Simon Brett novels, is sad, satisfying, and morally ambiguous all at the same time.
This entry from 1979 -- early-middle of the series -- is neither the worst nor of the best of these books. I suggest starting with one of the really great ones, either "Murder Unprompted," "An Amateur Corpse," or -- toward the end but perhaps the best of them-- "Sicken and So Die," all available from Audible.
I enjoy most of Georgette Heyer's books, but really *loved* this one. The Duke of Avon is perhaps Heyer's most memorable character (she must have thought so too, since she resurrected him from a slightly different incarnation that appears in her first-ever book, "The Black Moth," and then brought him back for a sequel--I think the only time she ever did that--in "Devil's Cub.")
I was swept up in this one from the beginning. Love the narration, the story, and the hero(s), and really love Leonie, our heroine (who also shows up again in Devil's Cub). Ending is somewhat surprising given Heyer's usually lighthearted approach, but all works together for the best.
Brother Cadfael is a monk and herbalist/healer in a 12th-century Benedictine abbey on the border of England and Wales--an historically accurate location whose ruins can still be visited. The novels are set during a time of civil war and unrestas two cousins, Steven and Matilda (the Empress Maud) compete for England's throne. This series, published between 1977 and its author's death in 1995, helped launch the "historical sleuth" genre of mysteries. As with many series, the early-middle entries (Chronicles 3-8 in my opinion) seem to me to be the strongest. This entry, Chronicle 4, is one of my favorites.
There is an embarrassment of riches on Audible when it comes to narrator choice for this series. Patrick Tull, best known for his splendid narrations of the Aubrey/Maturin nautical novels, is an excellent choice for the "monastic" atmosphere of the series. But since Cadfael's stories lack the action of Aubrey's sea battles and political intrigues, Tull's low-key (if forceful) presentation can become soporific. Sir Derek Jacobi played the title role in the BBC dramatizations. Stephen Thorne is a classic English reader; his presentations are faultless, but not compelling. Then there's Johanna Ward.
It may seem strange to have a woman narrate these stories, in which almost all the major characters are male. But I found her reading to be highly enjoyable, moving faster and with more energy than other versions of these stories I've listened to. Whichever narrator you choose, if you like classic historical mysteries with lots of period ambience, you should enjoy these books.
Some people have found this second volume of the trilogy a letdown after the superb "Amulet of Samarkand," but I actually liked it better. A very satisfying ending sets up the final-volume finale. Simon Jones is at the top of the all-time great narrators list, and when he's matched with terrific characters and a suspenseful story, it's audio bliss.
Always one of my favorite Georgette Heyer books, Serena and the Marquis of Rotherham are a fun pair, and the supporting characters are wonderful. Sian Phillips' narration is energetic and engrossing. I am glad to see Audible adding titles to their Heyer canon--the more the better!
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