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by L.C. Tyler
Pan, July 2011
288 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 0330472143

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

If you had written as many books as Agatha Christie, you would expect at least one or two authors to cash in on your fan base by writing in a pastiche of your style. That's what LC Tyler does quite unashamedly in his Ethelred and Elsie books...and he does it brilliantly. THE HERRING IN THE LIBRARY is a wonderful send up both of Christie's classic country house murder, and the so-called "locked room" mystery. It contains all the ingredients that the Queen of Crime used so well, from badly behaved aristocrats and incompetent policemen to secret passages and muddy footprints. Plus, of course, a good handful of red herrings.

The story is a simple one: a country squire invites an assortment of friends and acquaintances to dinner at his manor house, Muntham Court, and then dies in his study, which is locked from the inside. Suicide? Maybe. That's for Ethelred a dinner guest and friend of the host to find out, with the help of his sarcastic sidekick and literary agent Elsie Thirkettle. It is the relationship between Ethelred and Elsie which is the main appeal of this series for me, providing a level of humour that always makes me laugh out loud. Tyler writes alternate chapters from each of their viewpoints, which has the added bonus of allowing events to be seen through very different eyes, providing clues along the way.

Is the grieving widow a helpful and beautiful victim, as Ethelred is so keen to believe? Or is Elsie right in labelling her "a blatant gold digger... with long legs and a surgically enhanced chest." And what about the man in blue whom the gardener saw? Ethelred is sure he wouldn't lie about such a thing, but Elsie's cynical streak says otherwise.

These books tend to be dialogue heavy, but that's no bad thing given how cleverly Tyler uses it to create enormously funny characters. Pace and plot were both good in this title, unlike the last one I read, which laboured the "let's sit around and discuss all possible suspects and motives" chapter to the point where I was not only confused but, dare I say it, a bit bored. The only other thing to add is that there are several chapters of Ethelred's latest novel weaved into the book, which I can't quite make up my mind about. For me they don't really add anything to the story, except length, but then neither do they detract. Which is the main thing, I suppose.

Perhaps it is my love of Agatha Christie, perhaps my penchant for humour, but overall I think this is my favourite Ethelred and Elsie novel so far. Fans of LC Tyler will not be disappointed in the least bit.

Rin Simpson is a Bristol-based freelance writer and long standing crime fiction fan who is currently working on her first novel.

Reviewed by Rin Simpson, November 2011

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