Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book review: Herring on the Nile by L.C.Tyler

From Fleetwood Weekly News: Book review: Herring on the Nile by L.C.Tyler
By Pam Norfolk
Published on Monday 1 August 2011 00:00

What’s your ‘tipple’ this holiday reading season ... crime, mystery, comedy?

If it’s all three, picking up the latest in L.C.Tyler’s joyously entertaining ‘Herring’ series could prove the perfect choice.

An outrageously clever parody of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L.Sayers and all those other masters of the whodunit, Herring on the Nile is the equivalent of a sparkling glass of champagne.

Tyler’s effortlessly funny – and yet seriously plotted – murder mystery combines a hilarious brand of cynical humour with the best-loved traditions of the golden age of crime fiction.

His ingenious star players are the very gentlemanly but very third-rate crime writer Ethelred Tressider and his plump and audaciously outspoken literary agent Elsie Thirkettle whose rib-tickling repartee steals the show.

Together, they form an inspired comedy act ... Ethelred, circumspect, erudite and quick-witted, and Elsie, a tenacious, hard-nosed businesswoman who regards honesty like an expensive pair of shoes – ‘something to be cherished, admired even, but to be used only occasionally.’

In Herring on Nile, Ethelred is attempting to rejuvenate his flagging literary career by using Egypt as the seductive backdrop for his new novel.

To this end, he books a Nile cruise for some research, or what Elsie prefers to call ‘research’ with inverted commas.

When his latest love, the widowed Lady Annabelle Muntham, cries off, and after Elsie discovers that the boat is described as ‘luxury’ twenty-seven times in the publicity material, Ethelred sets off with his laptop and literary agent in tow.

On board, Ethelred is soon weighing up the other 12 passengers including a man whose path he has crossed before ... the ingratiating and duplicitous private eye Herbie Proctor who reveals he has been hired to protect a ‘mystery’ client.

No sooner has the cruise begun, however, than an attempt is made on Ethelred’s life.

When the boat’s engine explodes and a passenger is found bloodily murdered, suspicion falls on everyone aboard, including two Egyptians who may or may not be undercover police and Ethelred himself.

But as the boat drifts out of control, it seems that events are being controlled by a party far more radical than anyone could have guessed...

Tyler uses Christie’s classic Death on the Nile as his starting point but then turns the story into a dark and funny pastiche without losing the atmosphere, the sharp plotting and the delightful twists and turns of the original.

Unique, intelligent and fun, Herring on the Nile is an unmissable voyage.

(Macmillan, hardback, £16.99)

Laptop Up the Spout Again

It's in the shop, and I expect it back on Saturday. So that's when I'll start updating Clouds of Witness again.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Clouds of Witness continued

When the tragedy occurred the Duke had been staying there with a party of guests. In the Duchess's absence Lady Mary Wimsey had acted as hostess. The other guests were Colonel and Mrs. Marchbanks, the Hon. Frederick Arbuthnot, Mr. and Mrs. Pettigrew-Robinson, and the dead man, Denis Cathcart.

The first witness was the Duke of Denver, who claimed to have discovered the body. He gave evidence that he was coming into the house by the conservatory door at three o'clock in the morning of Thursday, October 14th, when his foot struck against something. He had switched on his electric torch and seen the body of Denis Cathcart at his feet. He had at once turned it over, and seen that Cathcart had been shot in the chest. He was quite dead. As Denver was bending over the body, he heard a cry in the conservatory, and, looking up, saw Lady Mary Wimsey gazing out horror-struck. She came out by the conservatory door, and exclaimed at once, “O God, Gerald, you've killed him!” (Sensation.)

The Coroner: “Were you surprised by that remark?”

Duke of D.: “Well, I was so shocked and surprised at the whole thing. I think I said to her, 'Don't look,' and she said, 'Oh, it's Denis! Whatever can have happened? Has there been an accident?' I stayed with the body, and sent her up to rouse the house.”

The Coroner: “Did you expect to see Lady Mary Wimsey in the conservatory?”

Duke of D.: “Really, as I say, I was so astonished all round, don't you know, I didn't think about it.”

The Coroner: “Do you remember how she was dressed?”

Duke of D.: “I don't think she was in her pajamas.” (Laughter.) “I think she had a coat on.”

The Coroner: “I understand that Lady Mary Wimsey was engaged to be married to the deceased?”

Duke of D.: “Yes.”

The Coroner: “He was well known to you?”

Duke of D.: “He was the son of an old friend of my father's; his parents are dead. I believe he lived chiefly abroad. I ran across him during the war, and in 1919 he came to stay at Denver. He became engaged to my sister at the beginning of this year.”

The Coroner: “With your consent, and with that of the family?”

Duke of D.: “Oh yes, certainly.”

The Coroner: “What kind of man was Captain Cathcart?”

Duke of D.: “Well—he was a Sahib and all that.

Sahib means "friend" in Arabic and was commonly used in the Indian Sub-continent as a courteous term in the way that "Mister" (also derived from the word "master") and "Misses" (derived from the word "mistress") is used in the English language. It is still used today in the Sub-continent just as "Mister" and "Misses", and continues to be used today by English language speakers as a polite form of address.

However, in this context it means, "he was a gentleman."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Clouds of Witness continued

“Yes. Who's on the case, by the way?”
“Mr. Parker, my lord.”
Parker is a police inspector whom we first met in Whose Body?

“Parker? That's good. Splendid old Parker! Wonder how he managed to get put on to it. How do things look, Bunter?”
“If I may say so, my lord, I fancy the investigation will prove very interesting. There are several extremely suggestive points in the evidence, my lord.”
“From a criminological point of view I daresay it is interesting,” replied his lordship, sitting down cheerfully to his café au lait, “but it's deuced awkward for my brother, all the same, havin' no turn for criminology, what?”
Café au lait is a French coffee drink. The meaning of the term differs between Europe and the United States; in both cases it means some kind of coffee with hot milk added, in contrast to white coffee, which is coffee with room temperature milk or other whitener added.

“Ah, well!” said Mr. Bunter, “they say, my lord, there's nothing like having a personal interest.”
“The inquest was held to-day at Riddlesdale, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, on the body of Captain Denis Cathcart, which was found at three o'clock on Thursday morning lying just outside the conservatory door of the Duke of Denver's shooting-box, Riddlesdale Lodge.
The North Riding of Yorkshire was one of the three historic subdivisions of the English county of Yorkshire, alongside the East and West Ridings. From the Restoration it was used as a Lieutenancy area. The three ridings were treated as three counties for many purposes, such as having separate Quarter Sessions. An administrative county was created with a county council in 1889 under the Local Government Act 1888 on the historic boundaries. In 1974 both the administrative county and the Lieutenancy of the North Riding of Yorkshire were abolished, being succeeded in most of the Riding by the new non-metropolitan county of North Yorkshire.

Evidence was given to show that deceased had quarreled with the Duke of Denver on the preceding evening, and was subsequently shot in a small thicket adjoining the house. A pistol belonging to the Duke was found near the scene of the crime. A verdict of murder was returned against the Duke of Denver. Lady Mary Wimsey, sister of the Duke, who was engaged to be married to the deceased, collapsed after giving evidence, and is now lying seriously ill at the Lodge. The Duchess of Denver hastened from town yesterday and was present at the inquest. Full report on p. 12.”
“Poor old Gerald!” thought Lord Peter, as he turned to page 12; “and poor old Mary! I wonder if she really was fond of the fellow. Mother always said not, but Mary never would let on about herself.”
The full report began by describing the little village of Riddlesdale, where the Duke of Denver had recently taken a small shooting-box for the season.
A shooting box is a term used for a (usually) small country property in the UK popular with the upper classes which was or is used for organising hunting parties, the pastime of shooting wild or semi-wild creatures a favoured pastime of a leisured, moneyed or propertied class. It can also be called a Hunting Box, Royal Hunting Lodge, or a Shooting Lodge. Such places might be quite separate or detached from the main property, or in a different and more remote part of the country.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Clouds of Witness pt 3

“Contrast,” philosophised Lord Peter sleepily, “is life. Corsica—Paris—then London.... Good morning, Bunter.”
“Good morning, my lord. Fine morning, my lord. Your lordship's bath-water is ready.”
“Thanks,” said Lord Peter. He blinked at the sunlight.
It was a glorious bath. He wondered, as he soaked in it, how he could have existed in Corsica. He wallowed happily and sang a few bars of a song. In a soporific interval he heard the valet de chamber bringing in coffee and rolls. Coffee and rolls! He heaved himself out with a splash, towelled himself luxuriously, enveloped his long-mortified body in a silken bath-robe, and wandered back.
valet de chamber: Room service. French for "servant of the room"

To his immense surprise he perceived Mr. Bunter calmly replacing all the fittings in his dressing-case. Another astonished glance showed him the bags—scarcely opened the previous night—repacked, relabelled, and standing ready for a journey.
“I say, Bunter, what's up?” said his lordship. “We're stayin' here a fortnight y'know.”
“Excuse me, my lord,” said Mr. Bunter, deferentially, “but, having seen The Times (delivered here every morning by air, my lord; and very expeditious I'm sure, all things considered), I made no doubt your lordship would be wishing to go to Riddlesdale at once.”
Riddlesdale is a fictional estate in West Yorkshire.

“Riddlesdale!” exclaimed Peter. “What's the matter? Anything wrong with my brother?”
For answer Mr. Bunter handed him the paper, folded open at the heading:


Lord Peter stared as if hypnotized.
“I thought your lordship wouldn't wish to miss anything,” said Mr. Bunter, “so I took the liberty——”
Lord Peter pulled himself together.
“When's the next train?” he asked.
“I beg your lordship's pardon—I thought your lordship would wish to take the quickest route. I took it on myself to book two seats in the aeroplane Victoria. She starts at 11.30.”
Lord Peter looked at his watch.
“Ten o'clock,” he said. “Very well. You did quite right. Dear me! Poor old Gerald arrested for murder. Uncommonly worryin' for him, poor chap. Always hated my bein' mixed up with police-courts. Now he's there himself. Lord Peter Wimsey in the witness-box—very distressin' to feelin's of a brother.
“’Name’ in the Witness Box’ was a typical headline by newspapers covering criminal trials. They gave the names of everyone who testified, reactions of the jury, and so on.

Duke of Denver in the dock—worse still. Dear me! Well, I suppose one must have breakfast.”
The dock is the name of the circular location in the courtroom where a defendant stands while on trial.

“Yes, my lord. Full account of the inquest in the paper, my lord.”
An inquest is a judicial investigation in common law jurisdictions, conducted by a judge, jury, or government official. The most common kind of inquest is an inquiry including a medical examination by a coroner into the cause of a death that was sudden, violent or suspicious.

Monday, July 11, 2011

No Rest for the Dead: Do too many crime writers spoil the plot?

The Telegraph: No Rest for the Dead: Do too many crime writers spoil the plot?
I'm not a fan of those portmanteau films in which several directors contribute segments: the good bits tend to be so few and far between that watching them is like eating a plate of cold rice pudding to get at the tiny dollop of jam. And multi-authored books sound like an even worse idea: surely part of the pleasure of a novel is in being introduced to one person's unique vision of the world?

But then you could take Alain de Botton's view that "most books would undoubtedly be greater if - like the best US TV shows - they had 18 authors to them." Well, No Rest for the Dead, published this week, ought to be a masterpiece as it boasts no fewer than 26.

The contributors to this thriller, all mega-selling crime writers, have each written a chapter based on an outline by the Strand magazine editor Andrew Gulli, without seeing each other's work. The enterprise will raise funds for the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society, and participants include Jeffery Deaver, the American thriller-writer who recently resuscitated James Bond, and Alexander McCall Smith, who is used to collaborative projects, having regularly incorporated readers' suggestions into the daily serials he has written for this website.

There are precedents for this kind of chain-thriller. HarperCollins has recently reissued The Floating Admiral (1931), a collaboration between Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, GK Chesterton and such less well-remembered names as Canon Victor L Whitchurch, creator of the "vegetarian railway detective" Thorpe Hazell. (Which of today's literary Ozymandiases will have been forgotten, I wonder, when No Rest for the Dead is reissued in 80 years' time?)

All of these multi-author books are best read in the slightly archaic playful spirit that characterised 1930s crime writing, a chance to watch writers unbend and head away from their comfort zones a little. And unless you send each of your favourite crime writers a coded note inviting them to meet you at Mayhem Parva Vicarage at the stroke of midnight, where else will you find so many of them gathered together in one place?

Hopefully back to annotations on Wednesday

My laptop, which has the Clouds of Witness text, is currently virus-ed. I hope to have that fixed tomorrow, so should be able to get back to work on it Wednesday.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Seattle: Gaudy Night on Stage Sept 19-Oct 20

Seattle Times: Tartuffe and Freud part of Taproot's 2012 season
Comedy, cowboys and a classic mystery will take the stage in Taproot Theatre Company's 36th season.

The opener is "Tartuffe" (Feb. 1-March 3, 2012), Molière's farce about a con man's attempt to get his hands on his friend's wealth and wife. Next is the first of the season's two regional premieres: Mark St. Germain's "Freud's Last Session," in which the father of psychoanalysis and C.S. Lewis meet and spar (March 21-April 21). Spring is when thoughts turn to vacationing, and Taproot stages Tim Clue and Spike Manton's "Leaving Iowa," a salute to the family road trip and other cherished traditions (May 16-June 16). The Seattle theater also plans "Chaps," (July 11-Aug. 11), a musical by Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner about a cowboy broadcast gone awry; and the season ends with another regional premiere, this one for classic mystery fans: "Gaudy Night," set at Oxford, is Frances Limoncelli's adaptation of the Dorothy L. Sayers novel featuring highborn sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey and the conflicted target of his affections, Harriet Vane (Sept. 19-Oct. 20).
Subscriptions go on sale to the public Oct. 3; single tickets in January 2011 (206-781-9707 or

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Clouds of Witness pt 2

For the last three months he had forsworn letters, newspapers, and telegrams. He had tramped about the mountains, admiring from a cautious distance the wild beauty of Corsican peasant-women, and studying the vendetta in its natural haunt. In such conditions murder seemed not only reasonable, but lovable.
In Corsica, vendetta was a social code that required Corsicans to kill anyone who wronged the family honor. It has been estimated that between 1683 and 1715, nearly 30,000 out of 120,000 Corsicans were killed in vendettas, and between 1821 and 1852, no fewer than 4,300 murders were perpetrated in Corsica.

Bunter, his confidential man and assistant sleuth, had nobly sacrificed his civilised habits, had let his master go dirty and even unshaven, and had turned his faithful camera from the recording of finger-prints to that of craggy scenery. It had been very refreshing.
Now, however, the call of the blood was upon Lord Peter.
Lord Peter’s blue blood, i.e. civilization.

They had returned late last night in a vile train to Paris, and had picked up their luggage. The autumn light, filtering through the curtains, touched caressingly the silver-topped bottles on the dressing-table, outlined an electric lamp-shade and the shape of the telephone. A noise of running water near by proclaimed that Bunter had turned on the bath (h. & c.) and was laying out scented soap, bath-salts, the huge bath-sponge, for which there had been no scope in Corsica, and the delightful flesh-brush with the long handle, which rasped you so agreeably all down the spine.
(h. & c.) =Hot and cold running water – not always available in hotels in the 1930s. Moreover, bathrooms were usually "down the hall" and shared between the people staying on that floor of the hotel or pensionne(private home turned into lodgings), unless they were specifically ordered "en suite" - within one's room.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Clouds of Witness pt 1

Turns out Clouds of Witness is in the public domain, so that's the one I'm going to annotate.

Lord Peter Wimsey stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hôtel Meurice.
The history of the hotel begins in 1771 in Calais, where upper-class British travellers on their way to Paris would arrive after crossing the Straits of Dover. There, an enterprising regional postmaster, Charles-Augustin Meurice (1739–1820), welcomed them to French shores, putting them up in his Calais coaching inn and arranging rides to Paris aboard his coach service. It was a 36-hour trip, and Meurice built a second coaching inn in Paris in 1817. Le Meurice moved in 1835 to its present site, overlooking the Tuileries Garden.

After his exertions in the unravelling of the Battersea Mystery, he had followed Sir Julian Freke's advice and taken a holiday.
Told in Whose Body?

He had felt suddenly weary of breakfasting every morning before his view over the Green Park; he had realized that the picking up of first editions at sales afforded insufficient exercise for a man of thirty-three; the very crimes of London were over-sophisticated.
Green Park (officially The Green Park) is one of the Royal Parks of London. Covering 47 acres, it lies between London's Hyde Park and St. James's Park. Together with Kensington Gardens and the gardens of Buckingham Palace, these parks form an almost unbroken stretch of open land reaching from Whitehall and Victoria station to Kensington and Notting Hill.

He had abandoned his flat and his friends and fled to the wilds of Corsica.
Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea. It is located west of Italy, southeast of the French mainland, and north of the island of Sardinia. It is most famous as the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte.