(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Simon Brett likes to weave irony and humor into his stories, commenting obliquely on the aspects of British society in which each of his series is set. In the Charles Paris novels, he looks at the egomaniacs of the theater, the young performers who are clawing their way up and the older performers who are easing their way down. With Mrs. Pargeter, the aging but sexually attractive widow gives readers a look at a variety of underworld characters, whom she calls on to help her with certain investigative tasks, both savory and unsavory. In the Fethering series, he puts together a middle-aged, conservative and quiet divorced woman who has been forced into retiring from the Home Office and a jarring neighbor with a wild and loose, outgoing personality; here, there is less commentary on a facet of society than more of a contrast between two opposites.

In stories outside these series, Brett features weaker characters who react to life’s problems by turning to crime. The most popular of these was A Shock to the System, in which oil-company executive Graham Marshall’s career is threatened, and he resorts to murder. This 1984 novel was made into a 1990 film starting Michael Caine.

Brett’s mysteries have been categorized as “British cozies,” which leaves the author “amazed and amused,” although he acknowledges that he and other British writers have not produced much fiction in the hard-boiled genre, although British readers do enjoy this genre. Brett has said that he writes about amateur sleuths rather than police detectives because the novels about the latter are essentially just puzzles, where all that matters is identifying the murderer. He thinks that the detectives in these works have become interchangeable characters and that nearly no good puzzles are left. With an amateur sleuth, he finds more leeway to describe some part of the world...

(The entire section is 768 words.)