Another Perspective

Malibu Mystery Theater

Something fine in the world of amusement.

By 7.25.03

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Malibu, Calif. -- Here wifey and I are out at our house at the beach, which we are enjoying very much. After weeks of bad weather, the clouds are gone and we are happy campers. We can see the ocean with smashing clarity, blue and peaceful and endless out our windows, and, believe me, this is a treat indeed.

Both of us, wifey and I, have gotten addicted -- wifey first -- to a series of British murder mysteries written by a genius named Simon Brett. He is one of the powers of the British mystery world and has written several series of mysteries. But the ones we love (and, again, wifey "discovered" him) are about a fictitious actor-drunk-detective named Charles Paris. Paris is a middle-aged, irresponsible, slobby, although handsome, alcoholic failure as an actor, but he is a tenacious detective as men and women are murdered all around him on his various acting jobs. His observations and those of the narrator -- played by a genuine prodigy of talent named Simon Prebble, the best voice talent I have ever heard -- are stunningly funny and on target.

It seems to me that Simon Brett understands real life, not stuffy fake literary life, but real life, better than just about any author I have ever read. His characters really suffer humiliation, really feel depressed and worried, really are beaten up by the arrogance of proud men, feel the sting of the insolence of office, are victims of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. And often his hero, Charles Paris, makes mistakes, is so nervous that he has attacks of diarrhea and cramps, and is generally one of us.

I love his insights into how plays and TV shows get made. I love his astonishing witticisms as he relays to us the critics' almost invariable jibes at his past performances. Maybe you should start with Star Trap or Murder Unprompted or So Much Comic. All are great, but by all means get the books-on-tape versions.

Now I listen to Charles Paris mysteries all day and night in my car. I have finished most of them, but I have about five left. What I shall do when I am done, I have no clue. Maybe I will resume listening to my volume of greatest speeches. My life is largely about giving speeches, and I like to learn. My favorite speech is John F. Kennedy's first inaugural (and only inaugural, owing to Khrushchev and Castro's cruel decision to assassinate him -- see Edward Jay Epstein's astounding book, Legend). He ended with the greatest phrase of all time in a speech that I am familiar with, "Here on earth, God's work must truly be our own."

Who wrote that speech? Mr. Goodwin? Mr. Sorensen? Someone must know.

Anyway, so here Alex and I are in Malibu, with the two dogs, and I have made a fire in the fireplace, and we are watching a little treasure. It is called A Shock to the System. I bought it on Amazon. It is from a book by the selfsame brilliant man, Simon Brett, I have just been telling you about. It is not a Charles Paris story, nor is it even a mystery. It is a story of a murdering executive, who only kills people who deserve it. (Swoosie Kurtz as the evil wife is fabulous and Peter Riegert is pure genius as the mean-spirited, boastful man who trumps the hero's ace -- at first. And Michael Caine is at his best as the murderer. Wow, is he great. He is always great, but in this, he is really, really great. You must see him in Funeral in Berlin, The Ipcress File, and above all, Get Carter, but he is also fabulously menacing and provocative in A Shock to the System. Get it and tell me what you think.

Anyway, a fine movie, but then a dismaying night. I dreamt my house was robbed. Then I dreamt I had been sent to a concentration camp for old writers and actors, where we just pitched stories to ourselves and acted in a hammy way in a huge rolling field, with our old, battered cars all around us.

I was so relieved to awaken in my own bed, with the ocean's roar below me and my dogs on top of me. Thank you, God, that I am still alive. I had a hard time getting back to sleep, so I said my prayers that I have been saying every night for a while now. "Please God, show wisdom and strength to our president, George W. Bush, and to Karl Rove, and to Condoleezza Rice, and to Donald Rumsfeld. And please bless and keep Tony Blair, a great, great man, and the leaders of Israel. And please watch over every soldier, sailor, airman, marine, and CIA man, and all of the women who do these dangerous jobs to keep us free. And bless all of the policemen and firemen and FBI men and INS agents and everyone who keeps us safe." Then, if I can remember it, I add:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose power binds the restless wave,
Who biddest the mighty ocean deep,
Its own appointed limits keep,
O, hear us in peril when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the Sea.

This is the Navy hymn, adapted, I believe, from an earlier English hymn, and I feel it in my bones for those brave enough to offer their lives for us.

And by the way, do we ever need a pay raise for the military. It is criminal how little they are paid as they offer their lives on the altar of freedom. Mr. Bush, let's do it now. I said my prayers and ate an English muffin, and soon, yea, soon, I was asleep on my little bed, which, I hope, will not be vaporized by the North Koreans any time soon.

Why, oh why, did Clinton not rush forward with missile defense? If he had done so, we might have a defense right now. How I wish we had one, and I don't care how much it costs. America has to learn that our life is on the line. Crazy people have atom bombs. This is not a good situation and we need to defend ourselves.

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About the Author

Ben Stein is a writer, actor, economist, and lawyer living in Beverly Hills and Malibu. He writes "Ben Stein's Diary" for every issue of The American Spectator.