Now for something unusual from Macmillan New Writing. L. C. Tyler’s (you’ll need to scroll down to find the site’s page links) The Herring Seller’s Apprentice is comic crime fiction and for this reader, comic crime at its best.
It bounds into being with a cracking pace and cutting humour, both of which can be hard to maintain all the way through a novel, but L. C. Tyler keeps both going with an energy exceeding that from a Duracell battery.
In a nutshell: Ethelred Tressider is a writer who uses three pseudonyms for his three different strands of writing, but in all cases he’s suffering a bit of writers’ block. He has a diminutive but burgeoning (due to an obsession with chocolate) literary agent Elsie Thirkettle who has a sharp tongue and who lacks respect for her authors and all things literary; her second obsession being her twelve and a half per cent cut from her authors’ sales. Thirkettle is never far away and is on hand when the police visit Tressider to tell him that his ex-wife Geraldine has gone missing. Later, Tressider is asked to identify a body and it is thought that Geraldine is the latest victim of a serial killer.
Geraldine’s last scheme to make money (she was always on that particular case) becomes a source of mystery, where a few investors are wondering what has happened to their investments. Tressider, as his ex-wife’s executor needs to unravel the strands. Where, as writer of crime fiction, Tressider is a (red) herring seller, Thirkettle wants to be with him every step of the way as the herring seller’s apprentice…
The novel is clever in that it combines various metaphors to provide clues as to where the main story might be heading. These include metaphors where Tressider is describing his life and writing, and later, through examples of his attempts to continue to write fiction, usually ending in "Edit. Select all. Delete." Oh the joys of writers’ block!
Both main characters have a sharp wit, with Tressider also unusually sensitive to Thirkettle’s style of dress: she wears clothes that imply she sees herself as tall and lithe, whereas she is short and dumpy, often to be found in too tight a skirt as she refuses to buy a size sixteen. (This can also impact on her ability to drive, such are the coinfines of her chosen too-tight attire.)
No one knows women like Elsie Thirkettle. When searching Tressider’s ex-wife’s apartment and wardrobe in particular, Thirkettle says:
"A woman’s wardrobe … does not have empty hangers. A woman’s wardrobe is crammed full, because it contains the clothes you actually wear and it also contains all sorts of other things that you have bought over the years and kept because you never know when you might wake up one morning a perfect size ten again. OK? This wardrobe is only two-thirds full, which means that half of the clothes have gone."
‘Ignoring for a moment the strange mathematics of women’s wardrobes, I surveyed the contents and admitted that it was less full than I had remembered it.’
There is plenty in this novel to make you laugh out loud and bring a smile to your face. It also has a very clever plot to keep you guessing. I so quickly found myself reading a few paragraphs of the first chapters to friends over the phone as I thought they’d appreciate the thoughts and humour – and that’s a first! We both laughed, both times.
This is very accomplished first novel; it’s hard to believe it is indeed a first novel.
Great entertainment for those dark nights in and seriously one of a kind; not that serious is the core of this wonderfully entertaining and funny novel.
A great cover too. Very different and that says it all! What’s on the outside well reflects what’s on the inside.
The Herring Seller’s Apprentice was published on October 5th in the UK by Macmillan New Writing.