You know how it is. You wait for ages for a new book from a favourite author, and then two turn up at once. So it is with L.C. Tyler. It's quite some time since his last book about Ethelred Tressider, the hapless mid-list detective novelist, but now Ethelred returns in Crooked Herring. And at more or less the same time, Len has published a historical crime novel, the first in a new series. I hope to read the latter before long. In the meantime, what about Crooked Herring?
Ethelred made his debut seven years ago, in The Herring-Seller's Apprentice, a very enjoyable mystery. I read and relished it before I met the author - a point that is worth making for a couple of reasons. First, I have got to know Len since then, and we're currently both members of the CWA committee. We even now share a publisher, because he's joined me at Allison & Busby, who have supplied this new hardback with an excellent and easy-on-the-eye dustjacket. Second, there's a lot in this particular story about crime writers reviewing each other - with calamitous results. So I was bound to wonder about reviewing Len's book. But I decided to go ahead, simply because the story is such fun.
Part of the pleasure, naturally, came from all the allusions to the working lives of contemporary British crime writers. Ethelred happens to have been a judge for a particular CWA award - and in fact Len too has been a judge. There are plentiful references to Crimefest and Harrogate, as well as Amazon reviews, which play an important part in the plot. Amazon reviews are often discussed by writers, who tend to have mixed feelings about them. But there's no doubt they form an important part of the modern literary landscape, although the ability to post reviews anonymously does raise questions as to their value and validity, as well as contributing to the plot of this particular novel. Yep, sockpuppets make an appearance...
Even if I didn't know Len or his publisher (you'll have to take my word on this) I'd be pleased to recommend this book to anyone who likes humorous detective fiction. I think it's probably his best book since his debut, and possibly the best of the lot. I'll be interested to read his new series, too, but I hope very much that he won't desert Ethelred, even though at the end of the story, our hero's life is taking a very different turn. The fact that Allison & Busby are planning to reprint the earlier Ethelreds encourages me to keep my fingers crossed that Ethelred will return to solve a new puzzle before too long.