Herring in the Smoke by L.C. Tyler
In this book, one of a series featuring Ethelred Tressler and his agent, Elsie Thirkettle, they have to decide whether Roger Norton Vane is in fact dead. The fact that they find it a difficult question is because he has just turned up at his own memorial service, twenty years after he disappeared without trace. Although this is the seventh book in this series of comedy mysteries, I am sure that it could be easily read as a stand alone book. Ethelred, sometime crime/historical /romantic author, has been given the job (and crucially the advance, possibly) to write a biography of the remarkable man that was, or is, a famous crime author who inspired fifteen series of “Gascoyne” a cult television series. The fact that he was personally obnoxious, and generally rude to everyone, means that Ethelred has a tough job finding anyone with a good word to say about the supposedly returned author with a big reputation. With his usual air of confusion, he is aided, abetted and generally bossed about by his literary agent Elsie, chocolate addict. This is a comedy mystery series that can be convoluted, unlikely and very funny. I have been really enjoying this series, and this latest episode is just as good.
Ethelred is writing a biography of an author who disappeared twenty years ago while on holiday. The memorable man who turns up at the memorial service claims that he has been in Laos for that time, and has now decided to return to Britain to claim his accumulated royalties. He has very few living relatives, a sister in law and a niece, and an ex lover called Tim Macdonald who is the only person in Britain who was present when Roger disappeared. Cynthia, the niece, has theories about her uncle, and as his biographer Ethelred feels duty bound to discover more about the elusive Roger, especially as Elsie is pushing him to find out what is going on in order to cash in on the revelations. He therefore hunts out the fact that Roger went to Cordwainers school, an ancient private school for boys with something of a notorious reputation. There are some well known old boys who have strong views about Roger, while being anxious to stay out of any scandal. As Ethelred finds himself being offered an interesting selection of biscuits, Elsie is plotting – if only how to increase her consumption of chocolate without alerting the watchful Tuesday, her long suffering PA.
There is a lot to enjoy in this novel of red herrings, biscuits and secrets. It has some interesting points to make about discovering identity in an age when so much is on the internet and recorded on mobile phones, DNA tests and more. Ethelred is dragged along by circumstance and the ideas of other people as usual, while Elsie is as always convinced that her detective ability and personal charm will mean that she discovers the truth. There is even a cheeky reference to the other, presumably preferable, biographers of a crime author. This is a very funny novel which I greatly enjoyed, and I recommend it to all those who enjoy a contemporary crime novel with no brutality and a lot of fun.
The risk is, of course, when you read a book which is full of references to a particular food or drink it can make you really want some for yourself. The classic food scene is of course in the eighteenth century novel Tom Jones, or at least in the film version. My husband was probably not the only one who spent most of strict lockdown wanting a frothy coffee, and my coffee machine was not really up to the job (not surprising really, as I no longer drink caffeine). What foods have books made you desperate to eat? Or has reading about food never enticed you to try and locate a specific thing?