A wonderfully funny “isolated mansion” mystery…
In Farewell My Herring, author LC Tyler has created a thoroughly enjoyable novel that is a wonderful example of the understated British humor that I like so much. And the humor comes writ large via Tyler’s spot-on send-up of the classic “isolated mansion in a snowstorm” trope – nicely updated as a rumored CIA (or MI6? or KGB?) safe house in a snowstorm. But it also comes writ small, in short bone-dry off-hand comments scattered throughout the book. And there were enough of these that I had to read the book by myself so no one would hear me suddenly laughing out loud.
Protagonists Ethelred, a moderately successful mystery author, and Elsie, his chocoholic always-on-the-make agent, have been invited to be guest lecturers in a short course for aspiring authors – held, of course, in the aforementioned mansion, Fell Hall. The send-up starts in the very first paragraph, as E&E’s taxi driver cheerfully opines about how easy it would be for him to knock them off somewhere along the lonely road to the Hall, and “it would be months before they found the bits the buzzards didn’t want”. It continues as we meet the course director, Wendy, who may or may not be a secret agent; the local help, Jenny, who knows Fell Hall inside and out; and a nice mix of authors and students, all of whom have more-or-less shady pasts. Of course, someone soon dies, and Tyler then proceeds to skillfully skewer just about every “isolated mansion” plot device known to humankind, including disappearing characters, mysterious notes, odd noises, flickering lights, spooky basements, late night searches (conducted in pairs, naturally), and a boat-full of titular red herrings.
Tyler also excels at slightly sardonic humor, and Farewell My Herring reminds me a lot in that respect of my all-time favorite author, Sarah Caudwell, whose short four-book Hilary Tamar series engenders the same sort of chuckles. (Which is a huge compliment, by the way, since I don’t compare many books to hers…) However, also like Caudwell’s books, the plot is not really the strong point of Farewell My Herring – it’s more like a foil for the characters and the humor. I found that I had guessed the murderer and most of the motive early on, but in the end, it didn’t make any difference to me, because I was having so much fun otherwise reading the book. But, if you are a reader who really cares about the nitty-gritty of the murder case itself, you may find yourself a teeny bit frustrated. In any case, myself, I’m not that kind of reader, and I’m thrilled that Farewell My Herring is Tyler’s ninth book in the series, since that means I now have eight more I can go back and read! Farewell My Herring easily earns a five-star rating, which I only give to maybe one in thirty or forty books that I read. And finally, my thanks to the publisher, Allison & Busby, and to NetGalley for the advance review copy.