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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

What I'm Reading: The Herring Sellers Apprentice

I have been reading a lot of mysteries lately; here's another one.

The Herring-Seller's Apprentice by L.C. Tyler is an intelligent cozy. It is also a mystery about writing a mystery book. Overall it was funny and interesting but the ending was a little too cute.

Here are the details. The Herring-Seller's Apprentice came out in England in 2007, but was not published here until 2009. There are 2 narrators in this novel, Ethelred, a middle-aged, mid-list mystery writer, and Elsie, his chubby, but fashionable, agent.

The mystery comes in the form of Ethelred's ex-wife ending up missing, and then apparently murdered. Ethelred is still her next of kin and executor of her estate, but he doesn't seem too interested in solving the case. Elsie, however, is more than eager to learn. Ethelred makes his living off of his skill with the red-herrings in his mysteries, hence, Elsie wants to learn from him and become the herring-sellers apprentice.

The case unravels with the appropriate number of twists and turns. Ethelred's missing wife seems to have bilked a number of people out of some money, so the story has plenty of meat to sustain it. However, as I mentioned above, although the ending is resolved, and we know what happened to the dead wife, the final chapter (narrated Elsie) is still slightly open and a bit too cute for its own good.

Since this is a mystery about a mystery writer, there are many allusions to how mysteries are written, the characters comment on changes in typeface, and the entire novel is supposed to be one of Ethelred's books. This would be a big appeal factor for readers.

People who like books about writers and/or books will enjoy this work. Also, fans of contemporary, cozy, British mysteries are a good bet here. This book is also fast paced with many interesting and eccentric characters. Finally, this mystery is so absurdly funny at times that you literally laugh out loud; for example, the hapless Ethelred also writes steamy romance novels. The entire thing is very tongue-in-cheek; which a reader will either love or hate depending on their preferences. Personally, I liked this part. But remember it is British humor. .

Readalikes: Felony and Mayhem Press, who published this novel, specialize in literary mysteries. They do a good job of marketing their mysteries by offering their own readalikes. On back of this book, in a box under the summary blurb, is the following statement: "Who's Likely to Like This? Fans of truly intelligent cozies."

On their website they offer another option for readalikes in their British category list. These books are described by the publishers as "set in or around the UK, these feature the highly literate, often witty prose that fans of British mysteries demand." Use this link to read their suggestions for similar works.

Also, the sequelto The Herring-Sellers Apprentice, Ten Little Herrings, will be out in August.

Other readalikes that may appeal to fans of The Herring-Seller's Apprentice would be Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crimes Series, which are funny, cozy mysteries featuring nursery rhyme characters (Jack Spratt is the lead detective).

On NoveList, I also found a list of mysteries called "Fatally Funny," compiled by Kimberly Burton, which contained The Herring-Sellers Apprentice. Other titles on the list that share a few other appeal factors with this novel are Ultra Violet by Nancy Bush, Goodbye Ms. Chips by Dorothy Cannell, and the Spellmans series by Lisa Lutz.

In terms of nonfiction suggestions, after reading The Herring-Sellers Apprentice, many readers may want to know more about what it takes to write a good mystery novel, or about being or getting a literary agent. Click on the links to find suggestions.

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