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): ...


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!

A Degree of Uncertainly by Nicola K Smith – a small town, a university and an uneasy relationship


A man fights for the future of a small Cornish town. A woman pursues an ambition that even she doesn’t understand. It could be seen as a simple story, but this contemporary tale is full of characters who are funny, endearing, petulant, aggressive and so much more. This is a book that explores depression, talent and determination and so much else. There is a tremendous sense of the absurd as long term residents of the town come into conflict with those who want to expand student numbers. I really enjoyed this imaginative and detailed book, and was very happy to have the opportunity to read and review it.


 As the main character, Harry Manchester, tries to keep his estranged wife and his younger girlfriend content, he realises that he is vulnerable. Dawn Goldberg is a powerful force in the university, and has ambitions to be even more powerful and to be paid even more. There are students with their own agendas, as they discover the realities of living in overcrowded accommodation and trying to study in wholly inadequate facilities. Ludo, a young man with many ideas, is trying to make a difference in the area, while the wonderfully named Roskstr demonstrates amazing talents. This is the story of a community in turmoil, a story of contemporary pressures and obsessions, written with a keen eye for human frailties and the contrast between small town gossip and the power of social media.


The author has created two main characters with real depth. Harry is a man of contradictions but so likable. He can be inspiring and attractive, giving people a real sense of purpose, while trying to be fair and kind to everyone. He does get himself into tricky situations, however, and knows real panic at times. Dawn is certainly a piece of work. Her interest in the large male statue is perhaps telling, as well as her attraction for luxury and fast cars. She is harsh to her employees, self obsessed and is developing some bad habits. The effects of Harry and Dawn’s behaviour on those around them is fascinating. I felt for Nell, whose story is challenging, and an illustration of what is happening in the town as a whole.


This book asks real questions and combines pathos and humour to provide a entertaining and fascinating picture of a small society. It looks at how students faced with high fees and reducing facilities on the one hand, cause trouble for the town in which they live. The problems of small businesses in the twenty first century are exposed, as well as the problems of morality in the face of business necessity.


I found this to be a well constructed and meaningful book, with memorable characters and gentle situational humour. There is so much in it, giving depth as Harry loves the music of Queen, while Dawn is fascinated by cars. The tensions expressed in the town are well balanced and generally well handled. I genuinely enjoyed this novel, and recommend it as a gentle but strangely powerful contemporary read.

The Love Detective – Next Level by Angela Dyson – Clarry P and positive female characters


This is the second novel to feature Clarry Pennhaligan working as a private detective; as it was the first book I had read from Angela Dyson I had read so  I can definitely say it works as a standalone novel. A contemporary view of London life and in particular the varied experiences of some women, with some dangerous moments, perilous situations and a dash of romance, Clarry gets to grips with her case as she investigates a young woman’s secrets. It also has large doses of humour and realism as Clarry realises and relates to the reader that she is hardly a glamorous detective, and her clothes choices are sometimes a little haphazard. I really enjoyed this fast paced, exciting and genuinely funny book, and was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.


Clarry is capable of getting herself into some complicated situations as she accepts the seemingly straightforward job of checking on the friendships of a difficult daughter, as the narrative switches from situation comedy moments to gentle thriller with pursuit across the more interesting parts of London. To add to the challenge her worthy assistant is a seventy year old friend whose lovelife is far more exciting than Clarry’s own, which is fortunate as Fran can call on the expertise of a variety of gentlemen who offer computer skills and driving a memorable vehicle on a search for the truth of some interesting people. 


The pace rarely lets up as Clarry tries to navigate the etiquette of escaping an anniversary party, deals with drunken rugby players, climbs ever higher in a mysterious building and investigates a group of unusual women. Some comic set pieces includes an outing in a hearse and a visit to a new age shop for notelets and information. As financial irregularities come to light, Clarry looks further into a group with interesting motivations, and finds out more family secrets. The tone turns a little darker as a midnight meeting exposes a threat which will become very real. Lots of interesting characters flit across the story as Clarry tries to follow the convoluted mystery that surrounds Vanessa. 


This is a well written and well paced novel which maintains interest throughout and includes so much. Clarry as the main character is an essentially interesting person as she navigates part time work and being an amateur detective, without any great trauma in her past life and a positive collection of friends. This essentially a light hearted read with genuinely funny dialogue, which handles the dark side of the investigation well. I liked the range of characters as older women are seen as capable, funny and attractive, while the main character is seen as having insecurities and doubts as she pursues the truth. An elderly couple who help with the detecting are realistically depicted, as is the landscape of a small bit of London which the author obviously knows well. For me this book achieves a good balance of humour, mild peril, gracious living and positive female characters who take the lead in a very readable novel. I shall definitely look out for more books by this author, and I recommend it as an unusual contemporary detective novel. 

The Comedy Cub Mystery by Peter Bartram – Some violence and appalling jokes in Brighton, 1965

A comedy murder mystery sounds unusual, but the effective notion of this book is that the actual murder is quickly described, and the detection of the true murderer is the main action. Not that the murder is the only thing worrying the hero, crime reporter Colin Crampton. He has to cope with strangers who seem to have a problem with his continued existence, a job which he loves being on the line, and a lot of remarkably unfunny comedians. Fortunately he has some help from his girlfriend, tough and resourceful Shirley, who frequently acts as bodyguard, motivator and companion in one tight spot after another. Wisecracking, comedy dialogue and some over the top characters make this novel set in Brighton in 1965 a genuinely funny read, with little respect for the conventions of detective writing. Nightclubs, comedy clubs and police cells all feature as backdrops to some violence and appalling jokes. I really enjoyed this well paced and engaging novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.


The novel opens with a News editor on the Chronicle, the wonderfully named Frank Figgis, bemoaning the fact that a libel writ has been issued against the paper, specifically Sidney Pinker, theatre critic. Not that the information is quickly divulged; an extended anecdote about a misrepresented bull distracts the attention. Before Colin can think of a way to solve the problem, Sidney is arrested for the murder of the theatrical agent he is supposed to have libelled. Unfortunately or fortunately for the free wheeling investigations of Colin and Shirley, as he narrates, the investigating officer is Tomkins, and his second in command Ted. Colin ironically comments “In the Sherlock Holmes Award for Brilliant Deductions, Ted would bring up the rear.”.For reasons that are not completely clear, Colin finds himself in a dubious situation as he tries to discover who needed Bernstein, unscrupulous agent, dead. In a fascinating element of the book, the narrative then moves to include the real character of Max Miller, famously successful comedian, who has died leaving his famous blue book of smutty jokes. As a potential suspect, drunken comic Ernie Winkle needs to be investigated, which is another excuse for a bad routine in a seedy club. Unfortunately, a pair of mysterious characters, Gino and Willis, seem to have orders to deal with Colin as he emerges from the club. They are not alone in apparently acting under orders to liquidate Colin, as another challenging pair, Bert and Dean, also pose a threat. An underground dweller provides assistance, and Colin has to face riddles of every sort as he tries to clear Sidney. Happily Shirley is often on hand to adopt disguises and do battle in every sense to save the day, as Colin has to put everything on the line to get to the truth.


Part adventure story, part politically incorrect comedy, this is a fast moving and funny book. I really enjoyed this novel, the characters and even some of the jokes, though the story and dialogue were much more amusing. This is an entertaining read with sustained my interest and involvement throughout, and the central mystery was far from straightforward. This is a mature and confident book from an experienced and knowledgeable author, and I  would recommend it as a light and satisfying read.


Now we have returned from our break in Worcester, I am going to sort out my June books and go to some events in the Derby Book Festival. We booked the tickets a while ago, so I am not entirely sure what I am going to – but no doubt we will work it out. Watch this space for more!

Strays and Relations by Dizzy Greenfield – family life from a new perspective

A book of honest memories, sometimes painful, often hilarious, always thought provoking, Dizzy Greenfield has written a loving book of family and friends. This is the story of discovery of what families can mean in all their variety and sometimes inconvenient affection. New beginnings can only mean challenges, but as Dizzy negotiates life in all its variety, her unique circumstances seem to magnify the small challenges that afflict all of us at times. The contrast between countryside and city is well drawn, as getting to know people can sometimes mean getting to grips with entire lifestyles. I was pleased to receive a copy of this book to read and review.

The book opens with a journey on a train, as Greenfield describes with a realistic touch her fellow travellers. She is en route to meet someone, on “a journey that had taken five hours and four decades”. Her friend Sugar, who we will read more of later, reminds her to be “True, Brave and Fearless”, as she confronts those who are waiting for her to arrive. We go on to discover that she has been adopted and lives with her partner Will and their daughter Sasha. She has fond memories of most of her childhood, of her adoptive mother in particular, who has a lovely positive attitude to Dizzy and her attempt to discover her birth mother. Dizzy is quite a character, content to live in a lonely farmhouse with few comforts and a notoriously temperamental Rayburn called Daphne for heating and unpredictable cooking. She recalls her rescue of a dog, Merlin, and her desperate attempts to restrain him and his behaviour. He will provide a lovely background character responsible for someone who will temporary get lost. Dizzy and Sugar have quite the adventure to find out more about her birth mother in Ireland, enjoying local hospitality. As members of her birth family emerge, she discovers that her partner, her daughter and her home will be affected by an influx into her life of people who are loving, radically different, and no longer allow her life to run in straight line.  It is her honesty and the tiny details that make this book come alive, and the humour and good nature that transform the bleakest events into comedy, headlines which verge on the ludicrous, such as a lost prosthetic leg, overly hot chutney and awful television.

This is a book which has undoubtedly been written from the heart with some deep emotions, imaginative empathy, and a great sense of humour. There is the pain of a mother who lost children, the gap of no communication for decades, and yet the ability to pick up relationships. This is a cheerful book, as alcohol is taken and new connections made, but there are challenges of sadness and loss honestly described. Greenfield is a clever observer, a constructor of memorable scenes and has a fine ear for dialogue. This is an immensely readable book, which I greatly enjoyed, and I recommend it for a refreshing view of family life.


This is a lovely book which really brings to life an unusual family situation in all its glory. It is such a well written series of memories, which can trigger off all sorts of memories for each of us. It certainly reminded me of the need for photographs and other memory triggers – just like blogs, in facts. Thank you to everyone who “likes” and comments on this blog – I may sometimes not respond, but they are appreciated all the same. Do let me know what you think!

Gap Years by Dave Holwill – contemporary life in the most entertaining style

Families can be complicated, and the family which is central to this book is very complicated. Not only that, in addition there is an unhappy teenager, a late lamented dog, and some genuine teenage angst in this book of contemporary life. The language is frank, the story is funny, no holds are barred in this honest account of life, love and boring jobs. This is a jolly book, full of incidental and open humour based on the sort of relationships which do not fit into easy categories. Sometimes shocking, always realistic, I was grateful to have the opportunity of reading a copy of this book as part of a blog tour.

The book opens with a dramatic scene of an accident which affects two of the characters, and the reader quickly discovers much about the characters; especially Sean, a nineteen year old who has recently returned to his father’s home after spending several years with his mother and her extravagant life style. He finds it a huge adjustment as he has lived a lonely life without friends and certainly no relationships, a situation that one of his new friends is determined to change. He has refused to go to University despite his abilities, and even his cycling ambitions have got to be put on hold. His father, Martin, has also got to adjust to a son who he has little in common with, a dead end job, and most significantly, Rhiannon who seems to be taking an unhealthy interest in him. Rhiannon is also the subject of Sean’s ambitions, as she puts on a brave face and seeks to give the impression that she is coping. Alison, Martin’s wife and therefore Sean’s stepmother, is a shadowy figure for most of the novel, yet is the subject of much of Martin’s reflection. As Martin and Sean alternate the narration as they give their own versions of life in the chaotic house, this is a cleverly constructed novel which keeps moving and entertaining with the sometimes fulsome details of relationships in the present, and in Martin’s case, in the past. Whatever happens there is humour and affection, even love as Sean’s ambitions always start small and rapidly increase.

I enjoyed this largely feel good book, with characters who get themselves into some extraordinary situations, groups, cafes, and friendship groups.  While there are some painful and difficult elements discussed, this is basically a book of real life, where nothing is as it seems, there are petty frustrations and realistic disappointments; but there is still the optimism of everyday relationships. This is a book where the younger characters have much to experience and learn whatever they may believe, but also that older people have to adjust and change to fit changing times, as they realise that life will keep moving with or without them. This is a quirky view of life, written with a keen eye for the small things of everyday life as some of the characters have to readjust to their lives. Not for the easily shocked, I found it painfully true to contemporary life, and overall very entertaining.


Last night we went to the cinema, again, to see the National Theatre’s production of Richard II. It was a very different version. They called it “pared down”, but it was actually incredibly minimalist. Certainly not for those who enjoy costumes, settings and realism! The live feed films certainly give the opportunity to see productions that we would otherwise miss, and we get a wide variety of plays. Something to look out for in many parts of Britain!

Did I Mention I Won the Lottery and Did I Mention I was getting Married by Julie Butterfield


This book poses a fascinating question: what would you do if you won the lottery? There is certainly something about having a massive, sudden input of money that makes for a great story, and the author here has made the most of the answer. She has also succeeded in creating some memorable characters, including one who needs to be sorted out throughout the book, and the reader gets thoroughly caught up in not only the action, but also the emotions of the protagonist. It is a well written book, which provokes thought around the question of how to react in certain circumstances, and also has some entertaining surprises. I was delighted to receive this book for review.

Rebecca Miles is a woman who is fed up with her life. She works part time in a Deli, her best friends are in another place, her children both at University. Her greatest problem is her husband, Daniel. Controlling, inattentive and verbally abusive, he had unilaterally decided to move them to a house with no character where Rebecca feels she has no part. Then she is amazed to discover that she has won several million pounds on the lottery. Until it is confirmed she panics, carries the ticket everywhere, and generally tries to carry on as normal. This is the great strength of the book; she behaves in a realistic, believable way. When confirmed, the money is in some ways helpful, as she develops a separate life from her horrible husband. Daniel is quite the creation; overbearing, boorish and nearly unbearable. Secrets and lies abound as a double life of normal, mundane and secrets continues, as Rebecca tries to decide how best to deal with her substantial win. Not that this is a book of lottery winners’ tales in isolation; both the plot and the characters  feel real and sharply defined, even to the minor characters whose contributions help to build up a convincing picture.

I really enjoyed this book. There are points of repetition when the lead characters repeat their behaviour or speeches, but essentially it is a good novel for relaxing with, never making huge demands on the reader. I recommend it as a perceptive book on an approachable level, which is far from the usual romance but presents its own challenges. This book is worth a read for its characters, its plot and simply because it asks, and answers, a question of modern life in a most satisfying way.

Romantic comedy with a definite twist, this sequel to “Did I Mention I Won the Lottery would probably work as a standalone novel, if only because the author repeats many of the facts from the first book. As in the other book, Butterfield has created some memorable characters; Rebecca, her horrible husband Daniel, and now introduces another pretty terrible character as well as exploring her daughter Sarah’s character in greater depth. While there is a dash of romance here, the central plot is about another practical project for Rebecca, and what that means for her life as she becomes more accustomed to her large financial means. After enjoying the first book, I was really pleased to tackle this novel which I received for review.

Rebecca is now getting used to her lottery win of two years before and the lovely home she has created. Into this idyllic setting erupts Annabelle, seemingly determined to claim part of the luxury lifestyle. While dealing with this shock Sarah, Rebecca’s daughter, announces her own engagement. While delighted for her daughter in many ways, new problems emerge for Rebecca as she feels her own life needs a huge change. While seeking a new partner, she must fight off the all machinations of the terrible Annabelle, a terrifically well drawn character with breath-taking cheek, and deal with Sarah’s hopes for her special day. She is accidentally drawn to a lovely building which is crying out for help, and with her characteristic drive she makes dramatic plans for its sympathetic transformation. Predictably not everything goes to plan, as Butterfield once again brings her skills in creating characters and situations of such a realistic nature that it becomes a compelling read.

While this book contains more romance than the first, this is not a straightforward love story. It is funny, satirical and so detailed in its descriptions of the fortunes of Rebecca that there is much to recognise. Enjoyable, reassuring and well written, this is a book to savour in so many ways, satisfying and relatable in its humour and plot, sharp in its dealing with certain character. Recommended.

So two books, and two book reviews. Phew! I do like reviewing a variety of books – if only because there will be something for every one on this blog. Some books are easier to read than others, and sometimes it is tougher to keep up. February has lots of blog tours, but I am trying to reduce the number of books I am reviewing to a particular date. Meanwhile, remember that there is no such thing as too many books – just not enough bookshelves….


Oh, I Do Like To Be…by Marie Phillips – Misunderstandings at the Seaside with Shakespeare…

A strange but funny book, this is an extravagant farce involving one of the best known names in British history – or rather his clone, or two. It has an equally strange title as it is set in a seaside town, and is consequently full of references to the beach and rather sad Bed and Breakfast establishments. Not terribly scientific, but enormous fun as people run in and out of buildings, around the small town and generally avoid the truth for as long as possible, while creating misunderstandings at every step. After readings Phillips’ previous books, I was especially keen to take part in the blog tour for this book by offering a review.

Billy and his sister Sally have just arrived in town. Within seconds we learn about their relationship; she is carrying the bulk of their luggage while Billy delicately pulls a suitcase. Billy tries to come up with observations of the rather tatty scenery, while soaking up the atmosphere and sending his evidently downtrodden sister off to find a place to stay. He is also fed up of whatever he has been doing, as he realises that despite his beginning as a clone of William Shakespeare, he can never create anything really memorable. He is vaguely in touch with his mother, but obviously she has had high expectations of his writing. When Sally returns, he is pleased to hear that she has found a place for them to stay, but is stunned to find a beautiful woman there, among a house full of books that she evidently assumes represent his well received writing. Meanwhile, the original newly arrived in town Sally has encountered Bill, the real owner of the house, husband of the beautiful Thadie, and successful writer. Confusion and much hilarity ensue, as no one seems to be sure who is truly who in a small town where personalities overlap and complications get more dramatic.

I enjoyed this book; it was a light read which I speeded through, while appreciating the characters. It was an intriguing concept; how would the greatest writer in the world truly fare when in the twenty first century? It is not a great literary novel, but a very human one about the problems that real people unintentionally get themselves into everyday, even if these are rather extreme. There are one or two set pieces that are particularly funny, despite the fact that the characters enduring them do not appreciate them at the time. The characters are consistent in their behaviour, and the rather tatty B&B is well described. There are always times when an easy to read book is the answer and for a well written light hearted read this book is highly recommended.

We took a few hours out of the parish today and went to the cinema to see “Colette”. It was less spectacular than “The Favourite”, especially as we went to the small city cinema rather than the front row of a multi screen! It was brilliantly well acted, the costumes were superb, and the filming of the French countryside seemed pretty good to us. Both films are to be recommended, and soon I would like to see another female dominated film – Mary, Queen of Scots…

Whatever Happened to Margo? by Margaret Durrell – The Human Zoo?

Image result for whatever happened to margo by margaret durrell

This is a book that answers some questions about the continuation of other books. Fans of Gerald Durrell’s books about his family and other animals, or at least those who enjoy the tv adaptations of his books such as the current “The Durrells”, will find something to amuse and entertain them in this book, originally published in 1995, now reprinted by Penguin. Margaret (Margo being her name in her brother’s books) Durrell was the only daughter in the slightly unusual family transplanted in Corfu by her Mother in the early 1930s, who grew up surrounded by animals and unusual human characters. Not least among these characters were her brothers, including Lawrence (Larry) the famous novelist, who had friends and visitors who were certainly memorable. In this book Margaret establishes her own unusual houseful of characters who continue the challenges and frequent farce of life she evidently grew up knowing in Corfu. Her own portrait of the remarkable people in her house is often funny, sometimes a little shocking, and always memorable.

Margo has returned to the family home in Bournemouth in 1947 following her divorce with her two young sons. Following the advice of a wealthy aunt, she decides to establish a respectable boarding house opposite, taking in long term boarders who will bring her income and occupation. She finds a house which needs work, and true to form her workmen have their eccentricities such as seeking out beer secreted around the house. Leslie, the other brother, causes problems with his dubious business practices and new love, Doris. The lodgers who turn up over the next few weeks include a painter of nudes, a married couple with a loud husband and an unexpected extra, two nurses with active love lives, and men of no particular occupation. Jazz musicians and a retired nurse also find rooms in this apparently capacious house, along with a small woman and her large son, Nelson. Nelson proves to be quite a character, combining all the cunning of an adult of dubious morals with the apparent innocence of a child. Gerald, famous younger brother, turns up with monkeys and a python, and much farcical mayhem ensues as they escape. A chimney fire brings out the brave foolhardiness of Edward, the unexpected wealth of another tenant means a party, and even the supposedly completely respectable late arrival turns out to have an inconvenient obsession with lightbulbs. Mother frequently turns up to confuse the issue, but the great aunt visit of Agatha and Patience is near Wodehouse in its panic hiding of guests, promotion of one or two lodgers as near aristocracy, and fights between pets. There are several set pieces of crisis with disapproving neighbours and police who have to be placated by the most attractive nurses. There are also touching moments when illness threatens, but the narrative soon changes tone as Nelson’s worse excesses dominate. Mice breeding, disturbed girlfriends and even a rumour of brothel keeping means that Margo never gets the peace and respectability she originally aimed for, but overall that does not seem to grieve her too much.

This book sets out to show that living in a relatively confined space with other humans can be as challenging as running a menagerie, and just as unpredictable. It is probably exaggerated reality, and the writing style is almost as chaotic as the subject matter. It is undoubtedly an enjoyable read very much in the Gerald Durrell style, which is suitable given that escaped monkeys prove one source of dismay to Margo. Gerald also becomes involved in trying to diagnose what ails one lodger, as he appreciates that the human animal can be as fascinating as his collection. This is an entertaining look at life, with an ill assorted group of humans providing much material for a book of jolly reminiscence of life in post war Britain.

I managed to track a copy of this book down last Monday in a snowy, wet Sheffield, and have read it pretty quickly! It is a quick read, if not a great literary work, and would recommend it for an enjoyable, relaxing few hours.