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Herring on the Nile by L C Tyler

As a reviewer, I try to read without any prejudices so one of the more intriguing aspects of the task comes after I finish a book and pick up the press pack sent with it. I say “pack” in the more general sense of the word because, in most cases, it’s only a single sheet of paper. But the norm is for there to be a brief synopsis and then talking points, focusing the reviewer’s attention on the features the marketers wish me to highlight. These are usually hyperbolic. For example, you may read that, “Jack Sunderland’s latest blockbuster will leave readers gasping for breath as the excitement rolls over them like a juggernaut”, or “Mary Dunstable’s work has a luminous and transcendent quality that makes her a major British voice”. Not that blurbs actually have to mean anything, of course. All they are supposed to do is hit a minimum number of key words that will produce a high google ranking if they appear in a website review.

 

So you can imagine, after finishing Herring on the Nile by L C Tyler (Felony & Mayhem Press, 2012), I was more than a little disconcerted to read the press pack headline, “Killingly funny!” I’ve made no secret of the fact my sense of humour quotient is usually zero. All the more interesting, therefore, to find the magic page listing previous books by this author and their nominations for “funniest book of the year” awards. It seems our author has a reputation for producing books leaving his readers gasping desperately for breath after laughing uncontrollably for several hours. For the record, this book was shortlisted for the GOLDSBORO LAST LAUGH AWARD 2011 so, yet again, I find myself cut off from mainstream reaction to a written source, although I draw minimal comfort from the fact it did not win (I capitalised the award title so you would be more impressed). Perhaps significantly, I was like the dog reading in the night and managed nothing approximating even hollow laughter.

 

I do confess to being nicely appreciative of the attacks on Dan Brown. I’m always fascinated to see what the libel laws currently allow us critics to say about another’s work and avoid civil action for damages. On this occasion, it continues to be acceptable to suggest this New York Times Bestseller Listed author can’t write for toffee. And the running “joke” based on our poor hero’s need to complete interview forms for various local newspapers did provide some interesting insights into his state of mind and immediate predicament. But looking back over the text, I’m stunned to discover this is supposed to be a comic novel.

L C Tyler (Len to his friends) doing his Tommy Cooper impression

 

So if Herring on the Nile is not going to leave you rolling in the aisles demanding more, is it worth reading? The answer is that, as a detective novel, it’s a rather clever puzzle and, although I think it’s fairly obvious whodunnit (although not why), I read through to the end in a single sitting with considerable curiosity to see how it all turned out. Our hero is Ethelred Tressider. He’s a third-rate author who, when the creditors become too importunate to ignore, churns out another crime novel (he has two pseudonyms) or a romance (using a third female pseudonym to blend into the landscape). The literary agent who has the thankless task of selling these books and their translation rights is Elsie Thirkettle. For reasons I will not bore you with, our joined-at-the-financial-hip couple (that’s not a romantic joining, you understand) end up on a mechanically-challenged paddle steamer making unsteady progress on the Nile (no-one seems very sure whether it’s moving up or down the river except, at one point when the engines fail, it definitely drifts out of control downstream). On board are the usual assortment of eccentric types most often associated with Agatha Christie novels. Needless to say none of them are what they appear to be although some of them are who they say they are and others may actually be better detectives than our heroic couple given that at least one other person works out whodunnit it before the penny drops for Ethelred. Frankly, I neither know nor particularly care whether Ethelred then tells Elsie. Not that any of the people astute or lucky enough to identify the killer(s) are at risk. The Egyptian and British authorities are convinced they know exactly what happened and would never reopen the case. The killer(s) has/have no reason to silence the amateur detectives. Indeed, doing so would alert the authorities to the idea their assessment of guilt was wrong.

 

So now your decision: this is a rerunning of the Agatha Christie jaunt on the Nile and it does its best to drag herrings of various hues across the trail to muddy the waters. You may be lucky and find it hilarious, but don’t bank on it. If you are going to read it, expect a clever puzzle to solve, some mild wit and fairly engaging characters who are initially intent on a holiday, but then find themselves in a genuinely dangerous situation. Why, you wonder, did I neglect to mention real danger until this dying gasp? Well, if L C Tyler is trying to write a comic novel, there can’t be anything even vaguely frightening. Even the Empress of Blandings could read this without losing her equanimity (assuming Monica Simmons was on hand to turn the pages, of course).

 

A copy of this book was sent to me for review.

 

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