Ethelred Tressider, author of some not-particularly well-known mystery novels, has had the misfortune to bump into an old acquaintance, Sir Roger Muntham. Or “Shagger” to his friends. Before he knows it, he is off to a grand party at Muntham Hall with Elsie, his agent, in tow. But before the night is out, there’s a body in the library – a library that was locked from the inside.
Ethelred and Elsie find themselves investigating the apparent suicide – certainly that’s the police theory. But with a strange man creeping around the grounds and the victim’s widow turning her attentions to Ethelred, can they find a murderer? And more importantly, can Ethelred manage to finish his latest novel.
“Nothing swanky. Keep it simple. No metafiction. No foreshadowing of events via dubious analogies. And no flashbacks.” If only it were that simple…
I absolutely loved the first two books of the series. I’ve discovered a couple of comic crime series recently, this one and Chef Maurice, both of which, below the humour, lurks a fair-play mystery. However, whereas with the good Chef the humour goes side by side with the plot, in this series things are a little more complicated as the plot itself is taking a good-natured pop at the mystery genre while still embracing it.
I met L C Tyler at the Bodies From The Library and we had a lovely chat. Fascinating fact that I discovered for those of you who’ve read the first two books – the ending of the first one was written before the second book was even conceived. So what I thought was a grand masterplan was in fact a very clever piece of writing to produce a sequel given what the author did to his own characters in Book One. Still impressive, just in a different way.
The issue with meta-humour is that it’s hard to keep the same joke going throughout a series and hence the form of the joke needs to be tweaked a little as each book progresses. The prose here is as fun as ever – we again get chapters from each of the leads’ points of view, this time getting a number of scenes from both of their very different points of view. It’s a very wise choice – as much as I am “Team Elsie”, an entire book from her voice could get tiresome. As it is, she’s a great creation and her chapters are always the highlights. We get the added bonus of scenes from Ethelred’s latest “Master Thomas” novel where it’s clear that he tends to write about what he knows, thinking more clearly on the page than in his head. And that prioress sounds rather familiar… And most importantly, it’s just funny – I laughed out loud on a number of times while reading it.
The plot? On the one hand, it’s a very clever take on the locked room mystery. It’s not (I should emphasise, as I know my readers) a great locked room mystery, but it’s a very clever take on one. I can’t say more than that without spoiling things – sorry.
Where it did fall down for me though was that I spotted what was going on very quickly. In Ten Little Herrings, I worked it out but felt clever doing so. Here, it was more “Is that it?”, which was a bit of a shame.
Still, it’s a great read, although the weakest of the first three books for me. All things are relative though. The apatosaurus was only the third heaviest dinosaur but it still weighed 80 tons (thank you Wikipedia). If I recall correctly though, it’s the author’s favourite book of the first three, so what do I know? I’d read the first two books first in order to get the most out of it, and I’m looking forward to the other two – already purchased and waiting for me on the shelf. Despite my mild misgivings on the resolution, it’s still Highly Recommended.