New To Me: The Herring Seller's Apprentice by LC Tyler

published 2007  chapter 5

Elsie deposited onto the wet table a pint of beer for me and a lemonade for herself. Alcohol was not her vice. Chocolate was.

I placed my glass on a beer mat, the one small dry island on an oak table well watered by its previous occupants. Elsie plonked her glass unconcerned in the beer lake that lapped around it. She was dressed that lunch-time in a sort of turban and long flowing garment that I would have had difficulty in giving a precise name to, though I did not doubt that it was the height of fashion. Elsie was a small plump woman who insisted on dressing like a tall willowy one. It was a strange vanity for somebody who was, on the whole, entirely free of vanities of any sort.

‘So they gave you a grilling, did they?’ she asked, rescuing the dampening sleeve of her robe from its place on the table…

observations: What a surprise this book was. It’s been sitting on my shelf for ages, with a frankly off-putting cover:

I still can’t remember why I bought it, and I had no very great expectations at all. But in fact I enjoyed it hugely, I found it very clever and entertaining. And that’s despite the fact that I didn’t have much problem solving the crime – that could have been a deal-breaker, but in this particular case I enjoyed watching how carefully the author worded his narrative.

Crime writer Ethelred Tressider and his agent, Elsie, are investigating the disappearance and then the murder of his ex-wife. There is an alternating narrative, a lot of jokes about the literary and crime fiction worlds, some pastiche, and some unreliable narrating. It could have been an unfunny disaster, but actually it was great fun, and I was delighted to see that there are more books in the series. Elsie is an absolutely splendid character, and I hope the books will follow her for a long time to come. She must be ripe for translation to TV – Dawn French?

The clothes description sounded like Madame Arcati in Noel Coward's Blithe Spirit. The pictures are of Angela Lansbury, who has played the part – but the costume suggests they are from Death on the Nile, where she plays Salome Otterbourne, a noted wearer of turbans. One of the photos is described on the internet as being from The Mirror Crack’d, but hardly likely – she plays Miss Marple in that. (And of course Ms Lansbury is a noted solver of crimes as TV's Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote.)

Links on the blog: there are turban-wearers among the Jane Austen characters here.

The splendid Mysteries in Paradise crime fiction blog has a 'New To Me' meme, and this is my contribution.


  1. Moira - This does sound like a fun read. And I remember Angela Lansbury's portrayal of Salome Otterbourne. I thought she did quite a good job of bringing that character to life even though I had real problems with some of the rest of the characterisation and so on.

  2. I love Angela Lansbury - I think she treads a fine line in that she is always recognizable, and always makes a part hers, but at the same time she is a very good actress, the role isn't completely lost in her being her, if you know what I mean.

    1. I know exactly what you mean, Moira, and I agree with you.

  3. It sticks in my mind that the last gasp of the Austinian turban was to be found in "Cranford", by Mrs Gaskill. A version of the "empire" line came back into fashion around 1909, and turbans with it. A perfect "opposite" to the elaborate puffed hairstyles and huge hats of the previous decade.
    The picture of Ms. Lansbury is very much what I imagined for your previous quote from "Death of a Ghost". I was recently given a dress that would have fitted the description perfectly, and that was once owned by Doris Keane. It is of velvet and gold-threaded brocade, made by Babani in Paris where the chic "artistic" set shopped in the 1910's and 20's. A simple tunic shape from neck to hem...

  4. Yes, I know what you mean about Death of a Ghost - I went for the Renaissance look, but the reality was probably more like this. And gosh - Doris Keane's dress!I hadn't heard of Babani before, but will keep a lookout for pictures.

  5. Although the author's name sounds familiar, I am sure I would never pick this book up without a recommendation. So glad to have yours. If I see it, I will give it a try.

    1. As I said, I was pleasantly surprised, I thought it was funny and clever, and well-paced.


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