The Maltese Herring (2019) by L C Tyler

Ethelred Tressiter, that not-desperately-successful crime writer turned occasional not-desperately-successful crime solver is having dinner at his old Oxford college when he comes across Dr Hilary Joyner, an historian with the fervent belief that buried treasure lurks in the depths of Sussex. Quite near to where Ethelred lives in fact…

Soon, Ethelred finds himself hosting both Joyner and his own agent, Elsie Thirkettle, and getting involved in a treasure hunt. But they are not the only people after the priceless statue of the Madonna (which originated in Malta, would you believe) – other academics, collectors, one femme fatale (in Elsie’s eyes at least) and at least two deeply suspicious gentlemen. When Dr Joyner is found dead at the bottom of the well, it seems the stakes are higher than anyone expected…

Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun. This is the eighth Ethelred and Elsie book, a series which started with the outstanding The Herring-Seller’s Apprentice and has continued to impress with every new release. After eschewing a vague Allingham vibe with The Herring In The Smoke, Len Tyler has gone for a slightly more familiar target for the general reading populace, namely Raymond Chandler – yes, I know Hammett wrote the Falcon (thanks realthog) but Chandler gets mentioned much more in this one.

You may recall that I finally read The Maltese Falcon as part of my countdown to my 1000th review and found it disappointing in the extreme. To quote my good self:

“Basically, a bunch of unpleasant people cause trouble for another unpleasant person – the focus of the tale – which is resolved after a prolonged confrontation with everyone involved. In the process, people are punched, kicked, shot, kissed…”

Well, luckily our hero is a perfectly pleasant chap, although some people, especially fellow railway passengers, may disagree about Elsie. [To digress briefly on that point, this book needs to be read just for the wonder that is Chapter Two. Nothing to do with the mystery, but possibly the funniest thing I’ve read since someone had a pop at Knox’s Decalogue in The Sinking Admiral. Now who was that again…]

Readers of the series will know exactly what to expect from the series. A highly entertaining romp hiding a proper mystery – so no parallel to The Maltese Falcon there – which takes a fair few gentle swipes at the genre. There’s a good, distinct set of suspects, all with possible motives for murdering Professor Joyner, if indeed he was murdered, and the finger of suspicion spins round faster than a roulette wheel before the tale is over.

What lifts this series above many of its contemporaries is the voices of the narrators. Ethelred is entertaining enough, but Elsie’s chapters, with her distinctive point of view, are the highlights. I think Len is wise not to let her dominate the narrative, as her somewhat cynical nature would make writing a proper mystery difficult – she’d miss out most of the details – but those chapters are laugh-out-loud funny as opposed to just humorous.

Yet again, Len Tyler has produced a wonderfully put together novel – funny, even if you don’t know much about Chandler, with endearing central characters and a well-plotted mystery. Oh, and if you haven’t tried them yet, and you’re a fan of the series, don’t miss out on his historical John Grey series, starting with this one. They’re great too! And if you want more info on his books in general, then take a look at this page.

Availability: It’s out on July 18th as a hardback and an ebook. Thanks to Allison and Busby for the review copy.

7 comments

  1. I’m not sure what to make of these. I just finished the third book in the series (Library) yesterday, and it really was a case of “Really? Was that it?”

    It’s amusing enough, but sometimes I get the feeling that Tyler is more interested in poking fun at mysteries than actually writing a mystery. Sure, I’ve been badly burned by the debacle that is Gilbert Adair, but when I read these books I just can’t shake the feeling that this is an Adair in disguise. Though never, never as mean.

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  2. […] But even outside of the mystery theme, Tyler’s prose style is a delight to read. Even on the first page, what could have been an dull piece of description, is instead turned into a moment of perfectly phrased humour: ‘And there was also something about him – it was difficult to say precisely what – that suggested he had run out of deodorant.’ The tour de force though, has to be the second chapter narrated by Elsie. Her time as train passenger is truly memorable. To be honest you would not want to be on a train with her, but observed from the outside her self-centred and rude tendencies are an absolute hoot to read, as is the way she completely gets herself out of any comeuppances. I’m not the only one to enjoy this chapter, as the Puzzle Doctor also mentions it in his own review, which you can read here. […]

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