Cat Among The Herrings by L C Tyler

Cat Among The HerringsEthelred Tressider is a vaguely successful author and a vaguely successful detective – although it’s debateable whether he, along with his ex-agent Elsie Thirkettle, have actually successfully solved a case – has settled down in the village of West Wittering. When his friend Robin Pagham dies in a sailing accident, everyone assumes that it was an accident caused by too much drink. Everyone apart from his latest fiancée, who tries to persuade Ethelred to investigate his death.

Ethelred is far more interested in another death – the start of a history of disagreements between the Paghams and the Gittings, a stabbing in the Herring Field. Mainly because he thinks there’s a book in it. But when Elsie gets wind of the possible murder investigation, she can’t help but stick her nose into matters. Let’s hope that West Wittering has enough chocolate biscuits to cope with her.

It’s no secret how much I love this series of books – here’s my index of spoiler-free reviews. I first came across them last year with The Herring Seller’s Apprentice and they’ve gone from strength to strength. And given the nature of the humour in the books, taking a pop at various aspects of both the mystery genre and the life of a mystery writer in general, keeping things fresh can’t be the easiest task in the world. Needless to say, while it’s not the easiest task in the world, it’s something that L C Tyler succeeds at admirably.

There are a few things in his sights here – this is the Ethelred and Elsie version of the parallel historical-modern mystery plots, such as those used by Kate Ellis or Martin Edwards’ Lake District series. And even though that this is exactly the sort of thing that the book appears to be, needless to say this has a very original spin on it.

Other than the general plot, there are some great spoof rejection letters from Elsie, which I really hope Len didn’t base on reality. And there’s one line – mocking the “murderer hires the detective” plot – which for some reason really seemed to come from the heart. Given that said plot is used in two of the best-selling (if not the most critically acclaimed) mysteries of recent years is, I’m sure, a complete coincidence – I won’t name them, but I’ve reviewed them both. If you’ve read them, you’ll know which books they are.

It’s a great read, with plenty of sequences that brought a massive smile to my face – a special mention for the gathering-of-the-suspects sequence towards the end. Elsie’s plan is inspired and I’m amazed it’s never been thought of before. This is the closest that the series has come to a standard whodunit plot (hidden behind the humour, both meta- and otherwise) and it’s about time that… well, that would be spoiling things. Many thanks to Len Tyler for his efforts to get this review copy to me – and for writing the book as well. It was released last Thursday, and obviously, it’s Highly Recommended. Book of the Month is going to be tricky this year…

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8 comments

  1. … mocking the “murderer hires the detective” plot.

    Yes, I’ve read one of them too and I must say, that if I were a murderer, I would gladly wait to let the storm pass me by and then go on with my life. I wouldn’t care about the rumours or insinuations. Hiring a failed detective in order to try and catch the killer is like an old and worn coat. It works only if you’re a gifted writer, but would not happen in real life.

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  2. Of course, there’s a famous classic mystery in which the murderer hires the detective. I won’t mention it by name in case anyone hasn’t read it, though why someone who hasn’t done so would be reading this blog, I don’t know.

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      • And at least one where the murderer actively involves the detective. And I think all three are by the same author – but, for the most part, they get away with it in the examples that I’m thinking of. Usually, it’s a necessity for their nefarious plans to work. In the recent examples, iirc, there’s no need for it at all.

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      • I haven’t read any of the recent ones, and since it would spoil it for me if you told me which ones they are, I don’t see how I can! I’d have to just read random recent mysteries and hope that I stumble on them. Actually, the two books that I was thinking of are by different authors, so if I’ve got the math correct that would mean there are at least four, counting the one where the murderer involves the detective. However, I think I might know what one that is, and if so it was in my original count (I’m not sure whether the murderer actually hired the detective), so that would mean at least three. This is getting complicated!

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  3. Yes, one can understand if a third-rate detective is hired by the murderer, but it is inconceivable that a brilliant detective (Ellery Queen, for example) would be hired by the murderer.

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