I Nearly Died by Charles Spencer

I Nearly DiedMeet Will Benson, journalist for Theatre World, whose life revolves around reviewing a variety of shows, drinking far too much and lusting after Kim, the sub editor. But after a few unfortunate events, including an interview with an extremely drunk Northern comedian who let slip too much, and some bad reactions to some reviews (of admittedly bad plays) he starts receiving cryptic death threats.

Over the course of the week, as Will pursues both his enemy and tries to straighten out his love-life, the threats become more and more serious before it seems that the only solution is to run away. Of course that doesn’t stop someone from following you…

Charles Spencer wrote three books in the Will Benson series between 1994 and 2000, but his primary role has been as chief theatre critic for the Daily Telegraph from 1991 to 2014. Clearly, he’s drawn from his experiences for these novels – I presume that he had to deal with things like East End talent shows before he joined the Telegraph – and he’s perfectly willing to take a pop at some of the people who he’s come across in his normal job. Some of them get mentioned by their actual names – Andrew Lloyd Webber gets a bit of stick – but most others get to hide behind a pseudonym. The prime example is the comedian Joe “The Big C*&%” Johnson, clearly Roy “Chubby” Brown, but given what happens with that character, names would have to have been changed.

Anyway, this is a comedy-thriller, rather than a whodunit – no gets killed, for example, but there is the ongoing mystery of who is going to kill our hero. It’s not a fair-play mystery by any means – Will bounces from prime suspect to prime suspect until he finds the killer. It’s a fun read – Spencer has a nice turn of phrase and Will is an entertaining narrator. It’s gets a little silly at times – the location of the final confrontation between Will and his nemesis is particularly over the top – but it’s a fun read that keeps the pages turning.


… I should warn readers who might be expecting something on the lines of a cozy mystery, especially from the theatre critic of such a “nice” paper like the Telegraph, that this book does contain a fair bit of sex. Sexually explicit language and graphic descriptions of the act itself. Now, I’m not a prude (“Yes he is” – Mrs Puzzle Doctor) but some of it seemed unnecessary to me, adding nothing to the narrative apart from a couple of cheap thrills. Most notable was the scene where Will, on the run from his nemesis, hides out in a strip club and we get a full description of the details of the act of the lady at the top of the bill.

But it’s an entertaining read and worth your time. Just treat that last paragraph as a bit of a caveat, as while there is a hint in the blurb, it is just a hint. But even so, this is a Recommended read.

This copy was provided by the publishers, Bello Books, who are doing a cracking job of re-releasing mysteries by a variety of authors. Do take a look at  their catalogue, by the way. Loads of good stuff in there.

This review is not part of my attempt at Readathon UK for the school where I work – ten books between 6th Feb and 5th March. Not sure the Headmaster would approve of this one. But even so, if you want to make a donation to the children’s charities that they support, then please visit their Just Giving page.


  1. Sorry to hear about the prudery (Mrs Doctor has my commiserations 🙂 ) – I know what you mean though, as it can feel exploitative, and I really hate being manipulated that way. The odds of finding anything genuinely erotic in a crime book, as opposed to something merely explicit, are so low that if I did I think I would truly cherish it!


  2. I, too, am not a prude but I prefer not to have gratuitous sex in my mysteries. And most of the time I just don’t see that sex adds a whole lot to the story. Relationships…yes. Explicit sex scenes…no. But this does sound like an interesting book.


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