Meet Ethelred Hengist Tressider aka Peter Fielding, writer of the Sergeant Fairfax novel, aka J R Elliot, writer of historical mysteries set in the reign of Richard II, aka Amanda Collins, writer of romantic fiction. A man who is getting more and more tired of writing populist mysteries but seems not to have the talent to write anything deeper. Meet as well Elsie Thirkettle, his agent, who is more than a little worried for Ethelred – especially when his ex-wife turns up dead.
She is found strangled in a rented car not far from where Ethelred is currently living. He doesn’t have the inclination to investigate her death – but Elsie, who is a bit on the bored side, is determined that they look into it. She sees herself as the Herring Seller’s Apprentice – Ethelred being the Herring Seller as he sells red herrings for a living. But is this a straightforward case of murder or something far cleverer?
Why this book? It’s a break from the Golden Age reading & rambling of recent posts but it stems from the same source. L C Tyler is one of the speakers at the upcoming Bodies From The Library conference and it only seemed to polite to take at look at his work. This is the first of five books featuring Ethelred and Elsie – he’s also written an historical mystery set in Cromwell’s reign as Lord Protector – and I’ll tell you this now. I haven’t read the other four books in this series but if it interests you, you really need to read this one first. I’m not saying why… just read this one first.
And you really should read this. It’s rather clever.
It splits the narration between Ethelred and Elsie, channelling both his frustration at his (lack of) ability to write his masterpiece and her concern that just possibly he isn’t telling her (or us) the whole truth. Both voices are distinctive and believable – although somebody should point out that the reign of Richard II has been written about in crime fiction by that Paul Doherty bloke – and you can’t help but be pulled into their tale. With an admirable set of suspects and an ingenious plot, this was a book that I read very quickly as I didn’t want to put it down. And it’s completely played fair – one early clue did leap out at me, but even then, I didn’t twig the importance to the grand scheme of things. There is something in the finale that seems awfully coincidental and unnecessary, but by then, it would have taken much more than that to spoil this charming well-plotted fair-play original mystery.
Given the titles, the later books are presumably Christie pastiches but this is something else. I’ll not say what for fear of spoilers, but needless to say, this is Highly Recommended and I look forward to the next book – and that historical one as well.