The Maltese Herring by L.C. Tyler
When Ethelred Tressider gets involved with academics, history and most importantly some extremely valuable pre reformation artifacts, things are bound to go wrong. This is the eighth book of Ethelred’s adventures with his agent Elsie Thirkettle, when life gets confusing and there is chocolate to be eaten. Like other amateur detectives he seems to fall in with odd people who have nefarious plans in mind, and this book is no exception. It works well as a standalone novel, as the somewhat hapless writer seems to learn little from his past experiences, not even to keep chocolate biscuits away from Elsie, who has a touching belief in her ability to solve any mystery while trying to make sure that Ethelred actually writes a book under at least one of his pen names. The dialogue between Elsie and Ethelred is as always very funny, and Elsie’s effect on those around her is always interesting, if only because of her dubious fashion sense.
In this book Ethelred encounters a disappointed academic determined to make his next project the discovery of a priceless statue; unfortunately he is not alone in believing that the Maltese Madonna is in one of two religious sites laid waste in the Reformation close to Ethelred’s home. Other academics are more than interested, while some collectors take an interest in the financial implications of a genuinely unique object. An impoverished owner of a large house and gardens is also naturally interested, especially in the light of her difficult family history. When a body is discovered, no stone or garden, site or well is safe from disturbance, and Ethelred and Elsie have to take action to find out what is really going on.
This is a witty book which revels in strange characters and mysteries that simply defy the sort of logical deduction so admired by slightly more established investigators. As a crime writer with one historical series set in the late fourteenth century and another series featuring and exacting contemporary investigator, Ethelred should be able to cope with mysteries rooted in historical legend, but he is not dealing with logical or reasonable people, as well as the unpredictable Elsie. Dr Hilary Joyner invites himself over to Ethelred’s house for the weekend and demands to explore a jealously guarded archaeological site and someone’s garden, but unwittingly ends up in deep trouble. As Ethelred struggles to deal with the inquisitive Tertius Sly and vital supplies, Iris and gardening advice, unwelcome and demanding visitors as well as Elsie’s unsubtle advice, mysteries come and go as well as attractive academics and poorly treated interns. As always the narration is sometimes highjacked by Elsie and her robust views on publishing, Ethelred and life generally. In this book the internet is not such a mystery as it has sometimes been for the bewildered pair, and so international discoveries are within their grasp.
This is a delightful, slightly silly and always entertaining mystery with some memorable characters, funny situations and “mild peril”. The racing through dubious historical sources is a joy, as well as the more traditional elements of whodunnits involving a well and mysterious motives. This is an enjoyable and non -serious, non – blood murder mystery which I recommend as being simply a good read.