This hugely enjoyable detective novel is the first of five books featuring Ethelred Tressider and Elsie Thirkettle. The intriguing title comes from the fact that Ethelred makes his living from setting out red herrings. He’s a fairly obscure crime novelist, juggling three series under pen names and Elsie is his wisecracking literary agent.
When Ethelred’s former wife is found murdered near his Sussex home, Elsie is keen they should investigate. After all, Ethelred’s had plenty of practice on paper and she’s incorrigibly nosy– how hard can it be?
Both leads are a delight to read. Ethelred is slightly out of step with modern life, a tweeds or panama sort of chap and very much his own man. Elsie’s sardonic, unimpressed by writers and needs a constant supply of chocolate to inspire her sleuthing.
I like the way the pair narrate different parts of the novel when it feels appropriate, not in alternate chapters. Their voices are distinctive with witty dialogue and wonderful asides on life. It’s a clever device to show two very different takes on certain scenes. The chapters fit together as intricately as jigsaw pieces and are very funny. L.C Tyler is very good at writing the way women think – and you could do worse than take Elsie’s advice.
The plot is gripping, full of quirky suspects and sly jokes about the world of crime-writing. There’s a lot of interest to be had in working out who may or may not be an unreliable narrator. Elsie’s loyalty to Ethelred is never in doubt, even though she’s the kind of friend who shoots from the hip and is always thinking of her agent’s percentage.
I know Findon, the village where Ethelred lives in the novel. L.C Tyler describes the landscape on the edge of the South Downs very well.
Although set in the present day, the Ethelred and Elsie novels have the feeling of a top-class entertainment from the Golden Age. The kind where there’s next to no gore and the emphasis is on a clever puzzle delivered with elegance and style. I have a suspicion that although L.C Tyler makes his sparkling prose look effortless, it takes a huge amount of talent and hard work to achieve that.
The story builds to a terrific, satisfying finale which had me going straight on to the next novel Ten Little Herrings. Something I rarely do but like Elsie and her chocolate, I simply had to have another fix.