L.C.Tyler : The Herring Seller’s Apprentice (2007)

Ethelred Tressider is a second-rate mystery writer. When his ex-wife Geraldine disappears his ebullient and opinionated agent, Elsie Thirkettle, persuades him that they should investigate.

As the names will indicate this is a comic mystery novel. Tressider’s occupation allows Tyler to make many observations about what he sees as the cliches and banalities of mystery writing and he actually goes further by having various drafts from Tressider’s latest book in his Sergeant Fairfax series.

Now Sharon Wheeler, who’s opinion I greatly respect, found this book hilarious and remarked of it ‘one of the cleverest parodies I’ve ever read.’ (for full review see http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/review.html?id=7078 ). Which for me only goes to demonstrate the ancient truth, which I recur to again and again, that comedy is a very individual taste. I am afraid that this left me pretty cold in that department. Yes I found the P.G Wodehouse parody mildly amusing but that was about it. I actually can’t remember anything else which raised a laugh (I am writing this a few weeks after reading the book).

And I do think there is a problem beyond this. There is nothing else but the comedy. I think Tyler actually thinks that he has written a reasonably clever plot which would stand up on its own irrespective of the comedy. In other words that the book is semi-serious. Again I would say that this plot is in fact a fairly obvious one, at least in its main outlines and nothing came as a startling revelation. The comic mystery is one of the hardest sub-genres to succeed in precisely because one person’s guffaw is another’s yawn. It is therefore a very good thing to have other strengths to fall back on – good plotting, sharp characterisation, some pointed sociological observations etc. ; unfortunately Tyler fails to provide these. Perhaps I am just being grumpy and it certainly feels like that! But my recommendation would be to get this from the library first; if you take Sharon’s view then you can buy it later, if mine then no harm done to your purse or wallet!

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