I am getting behind in my book a week aim. I blame jigsaw puzzles. I have banned myself from starting another puzzle until this review is written so here is my book review for this week, only a few days later than planned.
The Herring seller’s Apprentice is a novel by L. C. Tyler. It is considered to be in the genre of comic crime fiction and is the first in the Elsie and Ethelred Mysteries series. Contrary to my initial intention this book is similar in genre to last week’s The Fugitive Pidgeon by Donald Westlake which leads me to the possibly unfair pronouncement that it is not as good. The two leads in the book are Ethelred, a writer of crime fiction and Elsie his agent. The plot focuses on the apparent suicide of Ethelred’s ex-wife followed by Elsie’s desire to play sleuth and Ethelred’s apparent disinterest in the whole thing. The blurb on the back perhaps gave a little bit too much away, and the pronouncement on the front that it featured P. G. Wodehouse-like characters I consider overly complimentary having now read the book.
I’ve already mentioned that it wasn’t as good as last week’s read however it did have good points. The characters, though not what I would consider P. G. Wodehouse-like, are well formed and on the whole both Ethelred and Elsie are likeable. I found Elsie’s bullish but well-meaning manner not dissimilar to M. C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin but far less infuriating. In fact I think she is my favourite part of the book.
Throughout the book there are moments of competent comic writing but I found the book had a far more sinister feel to it than I would expect from something professing to be comic crime fiction. In fact the ending was anything but light and fun, the only explanation I could come up with is that it is the first of a series and the ending will be more satisfying when seen in context of the series.
If I forget the fact I was expecting something lighter and more quick witted the book had a few things besides its main characters going for it. The book was intriguing; when I was two thirds of the way through I still wasn’t sure exactly what was going on. The writer essentially tells you, with a certain bluntness, it’s not what you think, whilst never explaining in what way. Also by the end the book does provide you with all the information you need to figure out exactly what is going on, which is satisfying in a crime fiction novel.
Unfortunately the book seemed clumsy. The awkward bluntness that the reader is informed of some important information, and some very simplistic sides to some characters seems almost amateurish. The tone and style of writing though clearly an attempt to be satirical, light and caper-ish, as Wodehouse is, doesn’t really reach its mark and instead comes across as either indulgent or a poor impersonation.
I may be being a bit harsh, particularly as I was intrigued at times, but I think the ending disappointed me enough to taint any review I could give. I specifically avoid reading other people’s reviews or any information of the author before writing my review so that it will be more honest in my opinions. Having now looked up this series and seen this book and others of this series have been up for awards some of which they won I’m hopeful the series improves. Despite my slightly negative comments I’m not averse to the idea of checking out another in this series. Most of the issues I had with the book seemed more related to a lack of polish and perhaps inexperience in novel writing. Now that I am aware this is his first book I am inclined to believe later books would be better.
I will finish with a couple of quotes I did enjoy:
‘I offered to drop Elsie off in Hampstead, but that, as she pointed out left her car stranded in in Findon. Since it would be too late, once in Findon, for her to drive back again to London that night, we agreed that one or other of us would have to sleep on the sofa, while Elsie slept in my bed.’
‘We gave our condolences to Ethelred and Charlotte, on the grounds that there was nobody else to give them to and we didn’t want to take them home with us.’