L. C. Tyler’s Crooked Herring

Now and again you stumble on a writer you like so much, you wonder where they’ve been all your life. This happened to me recently when I found L. C. Tyler’s Crooked Herring in a library. Mr Tyler has been completely off my radar despite a lifetime of lurking in bookshops and libraries, especially in the crime section.

It turns out he’s the Chair of the Crime Writers Association. All I can say is his publishers should be promoting his work everywhere. It’s a delight.

Crooked Herring is the latest in a series featuring Ethelred Tressider, a middle-aged, mid-list crime novelist and Elsie Thirkettle, his sidekick and literary agent. They are both wonderful creations, funny, vividly brought to life and very believable.

Ethelred is comfortably old fogeyish, slightly eccentric and out of step with modern British life. In the time-honoured tradition of sidekicks, Elsie is very different. Pithy, unscrupulous and addicted to chocolate, she leaps off the page.

Together they make a very entertaining duo. In Crooked Herring, Ethelred reluctantly finds himself investigating a possible murder without a body. A baffling puzzle that gradually turns sinister and leaves him needing Elsie’s rather unpredictable assistance.

I love L. C Tyler’s writing style. Ethelred and Elsie exchange witty one-liners in the tradition of Dashiell Hammett’s Nick and Norah Charles (The Thin Man films); Francis Durbridge’s Steve and Paul Temple and Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford. Though these two are no cosy married couple. They are original and more akin to the warring friends of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (one of my favourite films).

Although the setting is contemporary with talk of iPhones and amazon reviews, there’s a delicious whiff of the Golden Age about this series. They have lovely 1930s Batsford illustration-style covers and great titles. Crooked Herring is sparkling, stylish, quirky and very clever. It sweeps the reader on a glorious romp with the perfect balance of tongue-in-cheek humour and a devious plot.

This novel was particularly enjoyable for me with its Sussex setting of Chichester and the surrounding countryside, an area I love. Chichester is a charming place with a largely Georgian centre and an important Roman past. It is a city only by virtue of its splendid Norman cathedral, still retaining the flavour of a country market town; bookshops, flowers, tea-rooms and quiet corners.

To the south lie the marshes and creeks around Chichester Harbour, an area surprisingly lonely for southern England. Northwards are villages of flint and thatch among chalk downlands, within the U.K’s newest National Park. L. C. Tyler has lived in the area and catches its atmosphere – something like a Margery Allingham setting – very well.

I’ve since bought my own copy of Crooked Herring and the first two in the series. Can’t wait to see how it all began.
If like me, you’ve missed out on L. C. Tyler, do seek out his work. You’ll be in for a treat.

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