Never the Bride and Something Borrowed by Paul Magrs
Just before I started this blog, I read a book that gave me a sustained bout of chuckling all the way through. On the face of it, Never the Bride was a cosy mystery set in Whitby, with two old ladies doing the sleuthing… But underneath it’s a rather different animal.
B&B owner Brenda and her friend Effie seek a quiet life in Whitby, but when weird things start happening, they can’t resist investigating. What ensues is a wonderfully Gothic black comedy featuring mysterious makeovers, aliens on the run, the Christmas Hotel where it is always Noel, and the even more mysterious Mr Alucard, not to mention our heroine Brenda – who is not what she seems.
This book was an absolute delight from page one, a gently hilarious and quirky tale full of weird and wacky adventures for the not quite OAPs Brenda and Effie. The nods to Frankenstein, Dracula, The War of the Worlds and other classic novels of that ilk fit perfectly with the otherworldlyness of Whitby – which is obviously a hotbed for paranormal activity! I gave it 10/10.
So why did it take me so long to read the next book in the series Something Borrowed? After all, there are now three further titles in the series. When I read start reading a series and really love the first book, I’m always slightly afraid that the second novel won’t live up to the first.
It was like meeting old friends, I needn’t have worried. Of course this time I knew Brenda’s secret…
Above all I felt that I was fitting in at last. I was happily inconspicuous. A little tall, perhaps. I am a heavy-set woman, with undistinguished features. My hands are rather large. I tend to keep them out of the way, and try nto to gesticulate when I speak. My accent is difficult to pin down, for I have lived in many different towns and counties. I slather my face in thick make-up, so that it always has a slightly unnatural hue to it. Not out of vanity, you understand. I look more like someone covering something up than I do someone deliberately flaunting herself. I hear people wonder: burns? Scars?
It’s not long before trouble finds Brenda and Effie though. Someone is writing poison pen letters, and then Jessie the Zombie Womanzee is causing problems. Enter on the scene the ghost-hunting Professor Henry Cleavis, who causes Brenda to re-live a previous life. Dare she let herself love him after all these years?
It’s not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this one. Magrs cunningly integrates most of the necessary back-story without seeming repetitive to familiar readers; you’d be missing a treat if you didn’t read Never the Bride though. The first book was more episodic in nature, involving Brenda and Effie in a series of adventures. The arc of the second again involves several plots, but rather than being sequential, they’re woven together into a whole which makes for a more satisfying story overall.
The most important thing is how you can’t help but really care for Brenda and Effie. They’re chalk and cheese, but make a wonderful partnership. Big, lumpen, Brenda has a heart of gold, and is kind and gentle, whereas Effie is nosy and petite and can be quite sharp with it, but the two women have forged a strong bond of sisterhood.
These novels transcend categorisation – They’re hilarious; they’re an affectionate spoof on all things paranormal and Gothic horror, yet with a small town cosy crime sensibility featuring two of the most lovable amateur sleuths you’ll ever find. Overall, these books have such a sense of fun, that I definitely won’t wait so long before I read the next one, and Magrs gives some hints of what is to come too. (9.5/10)