Cat Among the Herrings is the seventh book in a series of comic crime novels which began with the excellent The Herring-Seller's Apprentice.I enjoyed that book and reviewed it in the earlier days of this blog, at which time I hadn't met the author. Not long after that, my son Jonathan - a big fan of the first book in the series - contributed his one and only review to this blog, of the second appearance of hapless crime novelist Ethelred Tressider and his literary agent Elsie Thirkettle.
Since that time, I've got to know Len Tyler quite well, and as he is the Chair of the CWA,and I am his obedient Vice Chair, you wouldn't expect me to give him a cruel review, would you? Nor am I going to do so. Rather, let me talk a bit about comic crime in the context of Len's books. The first thing to be said is that it's very difficult to write a consistently successful series of comic crime novels. Not many people have done it - the few exceptions include such highly skilled writers as Colin Watson and Simon Brett.
Len's method is very sensible. He takes, or so it seems to me, a slightly different approach to each book in the series, and thereby contrives to keep things fresh. The law of diminishing returns, as has often been said, does apply to comic crime series (Joyce Porter was a writer who began brilliantly, but most of her later work didn't really achieve the same standard). Happily, Cat Among the Herrings avoids the pitfall of sameyness.
The USP of this book is that it combines a present day murder mystery with a case dating back to the 19th century. This is a method comparable to that employed by, among others, Kate Ellis, but I can't think of a comic crime novel in which it has been used before. Len's interest in history - he's also written historical mysteries which I haven't got round to yet - ensures that this is a strong entry in the series. As for the comedy, there are many great lines, especially in the first half of the book, before the plot really thickens. It's especially entertaining if you're involved in writing crime, but even if you aren't, there's plenty here to keep you amused.