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The International Writers Magazine: Review

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice By L.C. Tyler
New Macmillan Writing
ISBN 978-0-230-53128-4
Claire Holland review

Ethelred Tressider is a hack writer and he knows it.  His latest crime novel is stuck somewhere between his brain and the keyboard, his agent, Elsie Thirkettle, treats him with disdain and his ex-wife has just turned up murdered inconveniently close to his Sussex home.

Badgered by the unrelenting Elsie, Ethelred embarks upon his own investigation into his ex-wife’s disappearance and murder.  However, as the clues begin to pile up, Elsie starts to wonder if her client’s alibi is not as solid as he claims.

Ethelred is mild-mannered, naïve and frequently exploited by almost everybody around him.  His writing has hit a brick wall and he is fast approaching mid-life crisis.

Elsie is a foul-mouthed, bullying, over-weight chocolate addict, whom I was determined to loath.  Yet, by the novel’s end, I was beginning to feel some empathy towards her.  Okay, I liked her.  I liked her dogged determination and her honesty.  Her vulnerability shone through the irascibility and she had moved from caricature to fully rounded personality.

Written in a cleverly crafted dual first person dialogue, we are party to the thoughts of both Elsie and Ethelred, yet still, somehow, LC Tyler manages to keep the solution to the mystery a secret right to the last pages, even while peppering the text with clues and, of course, red herrings.

The rather knowing use of two different fonts to signal the change of narrator works well and I chuckled over Elsie’s reflections on this:
‘If there’s one thing that gets up my sodding nose, it’s starting a new chapter and finding that the poxy narrator has changed.  Changing the typeface just adds insult to injury, as if the author (silly tosser) reckons the reader won’t recognize it’s somebody else without double underlining everything and putting it in twenty-four-point sodding Haettenschweiler.  Or whatever.’

I also enjoyed the passages where we get to read what Ethelred is writing: his own melancholy is mirrored in Fairfax, his character’s thoughts.

Tyler does not write like a first novelist.  ‘The Herring Seller’s Apprentice’ is an assured and beautifully written debut, told with humour and an impressive lightness of touch.  It works both as a detective story and a comedy.

And by the way, if Dawn French wants a complete departure from the Vicar of Dibley, and if anyone at the BBC ever commissions this as a feature film, then the role of Elsie Thirkettle should be hers and nobody else’s.  In my humble opinion, of course.

© Claire Holland December 2009
Claire has just graduated with her Masters in Creative Writing
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