Friday, November 30, 2018

L.C. Tyler, Cat Among the Herrings

L.C. Tyler, Cat Among the Herrings
Allison and Busby, Ltd.; London.  2016|
© 2016 L.C. Tyler
ISBN 978-0-7490-1996-9
Also available as an ebook

This is the 6th outing of Ethelred Tressider (a writer of mysteries) and Elsie Thirkettle (his former literary agent), and it is (in my opinion) the best of the lot (#7, Herring in the Smoke, is in the tbr pile;

Ethelred lives in the (very) small village of Wittering, on the Sussex coast close to Chichester.  AS the story opens, he is attending a funeral, for Robin Pagham, who died while sailing in truly awful weather.  The rector has some difficulty in making Robin seem like a prince among men, and Ethelred’s silent monologue on the proceedings sets us up nicely.  Also in attendance is Robin’s fiancé, Catarina (of uncertain origin, but most likely east European).  She induces Ethelred to look into Robin’s death—Robin has told her that he will be coming into money when “the old man” dies,” and she’d rather like to have it.

And his friend Tom Gittings, a reported and aspiring novelist, tells Ethelred about another death—a murder—involving both the Paghams and the Gittingses, which occurred in 1845.  It was shortly after that murder that the Paghams began to flourish, while the Gittings clan declined.

If that were not enough, it seems Robin has, or has had, something of a drug habit.

Ethelred’s former agent, Elsie, learns of the situation, and decides that she will come to Wittering and that she (and, very much secondarily, Ethelred) will disclose whodunit, why, and how.  (One highlight of the book is the reproduction of some of Elsie’s letters rejecting the opportunity to accept some aspiring writers as clients.  They are funny and mean and something I could believe a none-too-successful literary agent would fantasize writing.) 

Ethelred makes some progress on the 1845 murder (he sees it as a book), Tom submits his manuscript to Elsie, Catarina continues to be mysterious, but insistent that Robin’s death be found to be a murder.  And, eventually (this is a mystery novel, after all), everything is resolved.

Tyler weaves all the strands nicely together, and the book is a very good mix of quite serious (even somber) and comic elements.  Ethelred discovers the origins of the divergent fortunes of the Paghams and the Gittingses, (there’s even a plot of land called the Herring field) including the consequences of the family histories for the present-day remnants of the families.  And Ethelred has a final showdown with the murderer. 

The further I got into the book, the stronger a piece of work it seemed to me.  A blurb on the cover [“A clever plot, with lots of laughs along the way;” from the (London) Daily Mail] over-emphasizes the comic elements—which are present.  This is not, really a comic novel.  It is a well-conceived, well-executed blend of a tragic historical murder and a perhaps less tragic, but still rather poignant contemporary one.  I think you will enjoy it.

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