Wednesday, 27 January 2010
The Herring-Sellers Apprentice by L.C. Tyler
Ethelred Tressider is an author who writes three different types of novel under three different pen names. Cozy detective mysteries, historical mysteries and fluffy romances. He lives alone, and at least during this book, the only other person he is close to is his literary agent, Elsie Thirkettle. When Elsie is paying a visit to him, he receives a visit from the police informing him that his ex-wife has disappeared and her car has been found on the beach complete with apparent suicide note. Ethelred is understandably surprised about this, especially since she lives nowhere near him anymore. This would obviously leave him the prime suspect but he has an alibi as he was in France at the time. Elsie thinks it doesn't quite sound right, and wants to investigate themselves. Ethelred is reluctant to do this, at least that's what he says to Elsie anyway. But it appears that he is investigating, although certain things he will only do once he has 'lost' Elsie.
Elsie herself however does not give up that easily, and she starts investigating Ethelred herself, as she does not quite believe that everything he is telling her is true. In fact it is, although in a very literal way, which is not revealed until the end of the book. The relationship between Ethelred and Elsie was one of the best parts of this book. Although they are essentially only business associates they do seem to know each other quite well, even down to what they will each do. They seem to be double bluffing each other all the time. For example, when he gives her a letter to be opened if he disappears, when Elsie opens it at the first opportunity it starts
"Dear Elsie (it read) I assume that you will read this in the first lay-by on the way home. And that's fine by me"
It then goes on to talk to her about where he might be going, not just where he's gone. Going back to Elsie, she also narrates sections of the book,and this brings me nicely round to the other aspect of this book that I liked. It was self-referential. It was written as a detective story, using all the conventions of detective fiction, including red herrings, multiple suspects, and an ending that could be worked out (I did, just about) but at times refers to itself as a story. When Elsie first starts her narrative parts of the story she says
"If there's one thing that gets up my sodding nose, its starting a new chapter and finding that the poxy narrator has changed. Changing the typeface just adds insult to injury, as if the author (silly tosser) reckons the reader won't recognise it's somebody else without putting it in twenty-four point sodding haettenschweiler. Or whatever"
And just to add to it, the typeface changes dramatically at this point! It changes again when we start to get extracts from Ethelred's detective stories inserted into the story. This was probably the only point I didn't quite see the need for. I think his struggles with writing his generic fiction was supposed to be some kind of pointer, but I didn't quite get that bit. But it wasn't a huge part of the book, almost incidental, so it didn't detract from my enjoyment at all.
I really enjoyed this, and there is more in this series so I am looking forward to reading those too!