Book review: Herring on the Nile by L.C.Tyler

What’s your ‘tipple’ this holiday reading season ... crime, mystery, comedy?

Wednesday, 22nd August 2012, 10:00 am

If it’s all three, picking up the latest in L.C.Tyler’s joyously entertaining ‘Herring’ series could prove the perfect choice.

An outrageously clever parody of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L.Sayers and all those other masters of the whodunit, Herring on the Nile is the equivalent of a sparkling glass of champagne.

Tyler’s effortlessly funny – and yet seriously plotted – murder mystery combines a hilarious brand of cynical humour with the best-loved traditions of the golden age of crime fiction.

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His ingenious star players are the very gentlemanly but very third-rate crime writer Ethelred Tressider and his plump and audaciously outspoken literary agent Elsie Thirkettle whose rib-tickling repartee steals the show.

Together, they form an inspired comedy act ... Ethelred, circumspect, erudite and quick-witted, and Elsie, a tenacious, hard-nosed businesswoman who regards honesty like an expensive pair of shoes – ‘something to be cherished, admired even, but to be used only occasionally.’

In Herring on Nile, Ethelred is attempting to rejuvenate his flagging literary career by using Egypt as the seductive backdrop for his new novel.

To this end, he books a Nile cruise for some research, or what Elsie prefers to call ‘research’ with inverted commas.

When his latest love, the widowed Lady Annabelle Muntham, cries off, and after Elsie discovers that the boat is described as ‘luxury’ twenty-seven times in the publicity material, Ethelred sets off with his laptop and literary agent in tow.

On board, Ethelred is soon weighing up the other 12 passengers including a man whose path he has crossed before ... the ingratiating and duplicitous private eye Herbie Proctor who reveals he has been hired to protect a ‘mystery’ client.

No sooner has the cruise begun, however, than an attempt is made on Ethelred’s life.

When the boat’s engine explodes and a passenger is found bloodily murdered, suspicion falls on everyone aboard, including two Egyptians who may or may not be undercover police and Ethelred himself.

But as the boat drifts out of control, it seems that events are being controlled by a party far more radical than anyone could have guessed...

Tyler uses Christie’s classic Death on the Nile as his starting point but then turns the story into a dark and funny pastiche without losing the atmosphere, the sharp plotting and the delightful twists and turns of the original.

Unique, intelligent and fun, Herring on the Nile is an unmissable voyage.

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)