Herring on the Nile By L.C. Tyler
This is a further episode in the adventures of Ethelred and Elsie. Not that it is absolutely necessary to have read the previous novels to enjoy this book; it is a standalone “story of murder, espionage and fish out of water”. Written with humour and clever, cheeky references to other books, this is a murder mystery with lots to recommend it. With a nod to Agatha Christie, this is a book of murder, mystery and mayhem set aboard a paddle steamer on a luxury trip along the Nile. The idea of luxury is especially important to Elsie, a literary agent with an interesting taste in clothes and an obsession with peeled grapes in this novel. Persuaded to go on the trip at the last minute by her author Ethelred, writer of both contemporary crime and historical crime, with a third identity as a romance writer, she has high levels of expectation of the trip. Even she has to acknowledge that Ethelred would struggle to be regarded as a second rate author in terms of sales, while he has decided to quit Britain for a short time “for research”. The boat is half empty, but the small number of passengers are a varied assembly, and suspicions soon abound.
The book opens with a list of questions that Ethelred is trying to answer for favourable publicity in a variety of local papers. He finds that it is not easy, as Elsie has given each paper the impression that Ethelred is a native of the area, and his struggles with the Sunderland paper are especially funny. When Elsie finds out that Ethelred’s friend Annabelle is not accompanying him on his trip to Egypt, she decides that the element of luxury promised is so attractive that she must go. They discover that their fellow passengers are an odd lot, with a pair of American young men, two gentlemen from Britain who speak arabic, a useless private detective that the pair have encountered previously among them. There is a Professor of Egyptology who is strangely reluctant to discuss his subject, and two women travelling alone who share a tendency towards floppy hats. A mysterious man may or may not be an accused murderer, a spy or various other identities. Both Elsie and Ethelred soon develop their own ideas about their fellow passengers, especially as events become more disturbing.The classic incident of a piece of an Egyptian Temple falling too near to two of the party awake more suspicions, and a bloody murder following the sound of a gunshot sets everyone into a state of excitement. Can Ethelred and Elsie discover what is really happening, and indeed can they survive the trials of a Nile cruise?
This is a very enjoyable book full of incident and reflection on who is exactly who among a closed community of passengers. In this book the running joke is the answers to questions that Ethelred is trying to work out for his publicity drive, which get more and more unlikely to reflect his current circumstances, especially when he is asked to describe the room he is writing in. The dialogue is as usual very funny, not only between Ethelred and Elsie, but among all the passengers. Tom and John are very cliched Americans, and overall the conversations that occur between all the passengers as they try to discover the truth are very funny. I recommend this book for its wit and more; it is a very enjoyable read on many levels.
I am getting very addicted to these books – and the good news is that I have at least three more on my shelves to read. (there are more to acquire) They hit their target of being funny while making reference to some of the favourite elements of crime novels. In a time when things are challenging these books are a great escape – and well written.