Herring in the Smoke by L.C. Tyler – a story of a man returned, biscuits and red herrings

Herring in the Smoke

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?

Cat Among the Herrings by L. C. Tyler – Ethelred and Elsie investigate a mysterious death, again

Cat Among the Herrings (The Herring Mysteries): Tyler, L. C. ...

Cat Among the Herrings by L.C. Tyler 

 

A book of murder and mystery, even if the murder dates back to the nineteenth century, this is another unofficial investigation for Ethelred and his sometime agent, Elsie. Happily it can be read as a stand alone mystery, as in this book Ethelred has established himself in a seaside village with a new group of friends, and his writing has taken a back seat. This is a story with fascinating characters, especially Catarina, the bereft fiancee of the departed Robin, who has died in slightly mysterious circumstances. The book is really a hunt for the truth about Robin’s death in a sailing accident, but Ethelred is reluctant to get involved in an investigation, especially as most people seem to be prepared to accept the more mundane report in the newspaper by Tom, a member of a local family. As the story proceeds with humour and confusion, Elsie becomes embroiled if only for the biscuits, and it seems Ethelred will be persuaded to look into more than one suspicious death sooner or later. As with the other books in the series there is humour and some great plotting as Ethelred and Elsie try to discover the truth by any means necessary. 

 

The book begins with a funeral attended by Ethelred, at which Catarina makes a chilling announcement “One of you bastards murdered Robin”. She follows this up by seizing hold of Ethelred and demanding that he investigate what she alleges was a suspicious death. As the book progresses, it seems her mysterious background includes some fairly devious means of getting what she wants, despite the fact that she seems to be certain that she will inherit Robin’s house and money. Ethelred is not keen, but does discuss the matter with his friend Tom who as a journalist reported on the inquest into Robin’s death, which found him to be sober and his death an unfortunate accident. Ethelred tries to ignore the local gossip and pressure and instead tries to discover the truth concerning a murder in a local field which took place in 1840. He discovers two families, the Paghams and the Gittings, who have been intertwined with each other locally, as a man was hanged for the crime which does not appear to Ethelred to be as clear cut as it once did; he wonders how they reached this point in the local area.  Elsie, meanwhile, wants to avoid her assistant and her agency of authors whom she does not respect, so gets involved as only she can. 

 

This is a well written mystery with a strongly humorous side. Some of the characters come over as thoroughly unlikable, but Ethelred is his usual impressionable self, who discovers that the pressure from a dominant woman and local pressure swings him into investigating a modern potential crime rather than sticking to an historical mystery. As usual Elsie is determined to get her way and the biscuits. I found this to be an excellent ‘cosy’ mystery, with some interesting characters such as Caterina and her dubious threats. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys somewhat off beat contemporary crime in a village setting, and look forward to the next episodes of Ethelred and Elsie’s investigations. 

 

Another book in this amusing series, I have two more to read safely on my book trolley. Our daughter’s stuff is now nearly all gone from my fiction room, as she has happily just about recovered from her accident. Now just to sort through my books – which are not always where I thought that they would shelved. Still, plenty to read!

Crooked Herring by L. C Tyler – Ethelred and Elsie discover the difficulties of plot with distractions

Crooked Herring (Herring Mysteries): Amazon.co.uk: Tyler, L C ...

Crooked Herring by L.C. Tyler

 

An adventure for Ethelred and Elsie that is less fast moving, but a complex plot of deceit, bluff and mysteries. This book definitely works as a standalone from the previous books as provided that Ethelred is seen as a somewhat hapless (hopeless?) author of crime novels and Elsie, his literary agent is seen as a chocolate obsessed interfering lady. In the fifth book in this series, Ethelred gets heavily involved in finding out about a possible murder on New Year’s Eve. Not that his investigation technique is that sophisticated, as a writer of police procedurals is a little less than able to sort out the challenges. Elsie, meanwhile, decides to commit her thoughts to paper, and ventures into recording. The running insertions in this book are reviews supposedly on Amazon – and they are funny distractions from the main story, though they are relevant to the story overall. This is a steadier book than some of its predecessors, with a non exotic setting (villages and the city of Chichester) and a more complex plot (which is criticised in the book itself). I found this a less hectic and more complex episode in the series, but just as enjoyable and humorous, making lots of references to a writer’s life and more.

 

This book opens with a Prologue which Ethelred says that no one will read, but which stresses that his erstwhile partner in detection is out of favour. As the book begins properly he is contacted by a fellow writer, Henry Holiday, fears that he has killed someone without remembering. Henry, despite being younger than Ethelred, has a particular taste in clothes, but is more successful in terms of book sales. He not only writes crime novels, but also reviews books. It is the prospect of getting some favourable reviews from Henry that means that he agrees to undertake some enquiries into whether he harmed Crispin Vynall, a far more successful writer. Accordingly Ethelred visits a pub and tries to ascertain whether Henry and Crispen indeed visited on New Years Eve, only to discover the bar man’s confusion. He proceeds to a nightclub, where he is not exactly at home, to discover if there was a CCTV record of the “older men” having been there. His progress is methodical for him, and does his best. Elsie, of course, is keen that he pursues the search, as she studies his reviews and finds them disappointing to say the least. Ethelred shows his usual problematic approach to life and in particular women, as he tries to work out excuses to visit Crispen’s wife.  

 

This is a novel which indulges in a lot of references to a writer’s life, including the relationship between writer and agent. With characteristic humour and insight, the characters are realistic and funny, falling into their usual routines of studied insults and disappointments. Ethelred is is usual confused and baffled self while he deals with the challenges of finding out about a potential murder, worrying about talking to a woman, and wondering about his novels. Elsie, meanwhile fulfils her role of making life for Ethelred confusing while denying the truth about her chocolate addiction. This is an enjoyable read in a successful series, pushing the edge of their experiences and their relationship. The reviews, the subverting of other writers, the references to the writer’s life apart from the usual issues of investigating a possible murder, all adds up to an entertaining read.  

 

I don’t want to give the impression that I am only reading the novels in this series so I can write the reviews (especially if you read this book)  I just enjoy a series. All being well I will be reviewing the first two books in another series tomorrow – another crime series…

Herring on the Nile By L. C. Tyler – A comedy mystery for Ethelred and Elsie

The Herring on the Nile (The Herring Mysteries): Amazon.co.uk ...

 

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.

The Herring in the Library by L.C. Tyler – a locked room country house mystery – with added humour

The Herring in the Library (The Herring Mysteries): Amazon.co.uk ...

 

Anyone who has read a previous Ethelred and Elsie will know that a dinner invitation is likely to end  up involving a suspicious death. If you have not encountered them before, this is a standalone novel which imitates the familiar mystery novel themes of a manor house and a locked room. Not that this tale of potential revenge and secrets is a standard murder mystery; just as Ethelred and Elsie are not the most typical of amateur detectives. Ethelred is an author of three different genres of books, crime, romance and history. It is as a crime expert he is called in to ask more questions than the police, yet it is his historical character, Thomas, who features in the extracts of his book which provide some of the commentary on this story. Elsie is his agent, but also his companion in crime investigation who has some strange ideas, and a keen eye for some of those involved, especially the gardener.  This third novel in this sort of series is an light hearted overturning of many of the traditional points of a murder investigation, with many red herrings, ideas and bouncing around being barely contained by anyone. It is a comedy with some really interesting ideas, and some sharp observations on life and love.

 

Ethelred and Elsie are playing a peaceful game of Cluedo, with Elsie cheating shamelessly, when he points out that an old university friend has invited both of them to dinner in the local manor house. While Elsie continues in her usual unconvincing way about her appearance, Ethelred recalls how he recently met up with his friend after many years as the retired banker has bought the big house in the area. Not that Sir Robert Muntham is known to Ethelred as Robert; his nickname reflects his behaviour at college. There are several people at the house when the meal takes place, including an embittered friend, a couple of doctors and other people. The host makes a strange speech much to his wife’s discomfort before disappearing into his study. The discovery of a body in a locked room seems to suggest suicide, but the new widow asks Ethelred to investigate after the police withdraw baffled. Being flattered and inquisitive he is thrilled to be asked, but Elsie has more interest in clues that seem suspicious of themselves.

 

This is a funny and cheeky story of enquiries that are unusual into a mystery which, like Ethelred’s tale of Thomas, brings in poetic clues and beanie hats, excellent wine and high finance. As Sir Robert’s past is debated, his odious wife Annabelle makes suggestions that may lead to many possible solutions to the question of how he died. Elsie is dubious about Annabelle, Ethelred is the recipient of many theories, and witnesses find different ways of hinting about what they know. Ingenious and amusing, this book ticks many of the mystery fiction boxes and forms a commentary on the usual murder mystery. I recommend this book to those who are fans of the hapless twosome, and those who come to the series new as it does not take long to work out the relationship between the two main characters. An easy read for dull times. 

 

This series is a very cheeky reference to so many crime novels featuring country houses and locked rooms; to write this well about it necessitates an impressive knowledge of the original sort of stories. The comedy comes from the characters, the dialogue, and the innuendos. A lighter read than some on this site – but it adds to the variety!

Ten Little Herrings by L.C. Tyler – An Elsie and Ethelred Mystery from a French hotel

Ten Little Herrings: Amazon.co.uk: L. C. Tyler: 9780230714670: Books

 

Red herrings in murder mystery novels are par for the course – but in this book they are everywhere. That, and chocolate, and stamp collectors. The second Elsie and Ethelred novel, of a contemporary pair of inept investigators who seem to attract trouble, features a select group of potential suspects for murder and possibly other crimes. When Elsie turns up looking for Ethelred after she technically kills him, she arrives in a small seedy hotel in a small French town, at the end of a stamp fair. In a surreal situation most of the guests in the hotel are stamp collectors, but it seems that several have other, possibly murderous priorities. This comedy mystery novel, the second in the series, features a novelist called Ethelred and his literary agent, Elsie. I believe this would work as a standalone novel, assuming that the reader understood the sense of humour behind the main characters’ preoccupations. An unusual and humourous book, it has elements of farce and moments of near suspense, as the hapless pair are effectively trapped in the hotel.

 

Ethelred disappeared at the end of the first novel, and in this book Elsie has cancelled his bank cards as part of dealing with his affairs and collecting his royalties. Managing to discover where he is, she turns up at the hotel only to find Ethelred among assorted guests including a dubious Russian businessman, a younger man called Gold, “the weaselly Mr Herbert Proctor” and a perfect family of unknown nationality. The other guests, mainly men, have little conversation, but it is understood that they are all interested in stamps, except a traveller who apparently only wanted to stay one night.  When a guest is murdered, everyone is under suspicion. Elsie is obsessed with chocolate and has a touching belief in her investigative powers while, she fondly believes, attracting men with her sense of style. Being trapped in the hotel indefinitely while the police investigate the murder means that she cannot go and buy chocolate, and as she says in one of her chapters, written from her point of view, “There’s not much you can do in a room without chocolate”.  Her interest in the crime combined with her desire for chocolate means that she gets involved in the slightly strange goings on in the hotel and the surrounding area. Ethelred meanwhile is preoccupied with his most recent past and immediate future in a rather confused way; he doesn’t seem very interested in the crime, and his professional interest in writing mystery novels is a little dismissed in his chapters as he does not want to write anymore Fairfax novels. He does, however, write about the nature of murder and the statistical truths of how real murders happen, concluding “Murderers include the most unlikely people.You’d never spot one in the street. Or in a hotel.” His considerations are in contrast with Elsie’s flights of fantasy to great effect, as their pool of suspects grows smaller and another consideration appears.

 

There is humour in every part of this book, from the slightly absurd characters in the hotel to the situations Elsie in particular finds herself in, as she bustles around the hotel, avoiding certain people and seeking a version of the truth. Revelations and incidents mount up in this episode in a popular series. I really enjoyed this very entertaining book. 

 

This book is certainly in contrast with the British Library Crime Classics I often review, as well as the Dean Street Press republished crime novels from the twentieth century. Not that outrageous investigators are unknown in other novels, and chocolate is certainly not the most surprising vice. Anyway, this is quite a cheerful murder mystery if that is possible, and adds to my variety of reading. I have some later books in the series, but have set Northernvicar onto finding the next book…

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L.C. Tyler – A funny book of murder, writing and mayhem

The Herring Seller's Apprentice (Herring Mysteries Book 1) eBook ...

 

Ethelred Tressider is a writer. In a way, he is three writers, Peter Fielding, J.R. Elliot, and Amanda Collins. All three have one agent, Ms Elise Thirkettle, who is always interested in Ethelred, but is far more obsessed with chocolate. Both are content in their way, alone but in contact if only so Elise can cajole, persuade and generally pressure him into producing books for sale and therefore commission. These two characters are the leads in a comedy murder mystery from 2007. To begin with it is a missing person hunt, as Geraldine, Ethelred’s ex wife, appears to have disappeared. Fairfax, Ethelred/ Peter’s police character, is refusing to be written, except in strange little extracts which involve various literary characters from Winne the Pooh to P.G. Wodehouse. As the novel proceeds, Elise takes over the narration of the story from Ethelred, and the lively story continues in a unique and very funny way. A body, Ethelred’s autobiographical tales and various people connected with the memorable Geraldine and Elise’s reflections on what is really going on makes for a lively novel, the first in a series of books by L.C. Tyler. I really enjoyed this engaging book, and am looking forward to subsequent novels in the series.

 

The book opens with Ethelred stating that “I have always been a writer” and listing his various authorial aliases. Peter Fielding writes of Fairfax, a policeman who is nearing retirement, JR Elliot writes of a character in the time of Richard II, and Amanda  Collins who writes modern romance. Elise has arrived at Ethelred’s house to read his latest submission, hoping that his recent stay in France has fuelled his creative impulses. She is just informing that far from being a literary masterpiece as he hopes, his latest work is rubbish ( which she puts more basically)  when a police officer turns up to inform Ethelred  that Geraldine’s hire car has been found abandoned locally.  Ethelred is very informative about his separation from his ex wife and her subsequent relationship with Rupert Mackinnon, now ended it transpires, which Rupert confirms when he turns up at Ethelred’s house. It is assumed that Geraldine, with her “perpetual money troubles”, has committed suicide having left a note. When a body is discovered, Ethelred duly identifies it as Geraldine, and begins the process of sorting out her affairs. It seems that everyone, excluding Ethelred, has invested money with her, which has disappeared. Elsie realises that he will not get down to writing his next book until everything is sorted out, so gets involved in investigating what really happens while consuming heavy amounts of chocolate of course.

 

This is an unusual, funny and really well written book. It casts a cynical look at the progress of writers and a possible relationship with agents, though I suspect Elsie is completely fictional. It is a clever and humourous book which calls in lots of literary references and the sort of investigations in a criminal matter which may well have been attempted in a pre internet world. I really enjoyed its unusual storyline and the robust dialogue between the main characters. I recommend this book as a fun read with some serious themes, well handled. It looks towards subsequent books, and has many strengths on its own.   

 

This is a very different book from yesterday’s Barbara Pym post, but both are quite funny and light in a way. They both attempt to reflect a version of contemporary life in their time. All part of my attempt to offer a wide variety of reviews to distract and tempt people into trying new authors and even genres of book.