I ummed and ahhhed about if I should post about the fourth in Paul Magrs Brenda & Effie series ‘Hell’s Belles’ because as some of you will know Paul has become a firm friend (and a fabulous coffee and charity shopping partner for days out) alongside a fellow founding member of The Green Carnation Prize. However, I hope that you would all know that regardless of knowing an author I would be truthful about how I felt about any book that I read of theirs, slightly more dangerous now I am open to the idea of negative reviews. There, that feels better. I was actually a fan of the Brenda and Effie series way before I knew Paul and in fact it was a feature on the two ladies in question and him I did for the magazine I work for that led us to contacting each other, I seem to remember us both laughing a lot during the phone interview. It was interesting then that when I took ‘Hell’s Belles’ with me to the hospital recently that I got a bit nervous. What if I didn’t like it?
The seaside town of Whitby is welcoming some mysterious new arrivals both unknown and infamous as ‘Hell’s Belles’ opens. First there is Penny, arriving for a receptionist job a job at the Miramar hotel as a newly found all year round Goth and quite possibly escaping something. Second is the cult horror b-movie actress Karla Sorensen, arriving to remake the movie ‘Get Thee Inside Me, Satan’ which caused shock back in the 1960’s when various members of the crew and the viewing public for its limited cinema run seemed to become cursed. After the arrival of these two women, and a miraculously appearing DVD copy of ‘Get Thee Inside Me, Satan’ in the Save The Kiddies charity shop, things start to get a little stranger in Whitby and soon the unlikely and rather odd duo Brenda and Effie must investigate and see if they can save Whitby from the supernatural, including a bit of time travelling as they go, once more.
Meanwhile as the main plot unfolds we also have several other minor ones that interweave it, and might explain a few things, such as Brenda’s other best friend Roberts new mysterious fella, Brenda’s rather monsterous husband, lots of past secrets (like how Karla and Brenda have met before) and a few surprising love affairs kicking off. There is a lot going on in this book, the longest of the series so far, yet it never feels over done or trying too hard, nor does it get complicated and have you at your wits end.
Not that you need to read the rest of the series to enjoy this one, in fact actually I think this book is probably the most standalone in the series after the first ‘Never The Bride’. There’s no massive recap at the start, things from the past are nicely woven in as we go along. Not that this will bore readers who have read and loved the series so far either as Magrs tells them through Effie’s or Robert’s reminiscing (Brenda doesn’t appear until page fifty which interestingly I really noticed, this book comes alive when both women are at the helm) this worked rather nicely showing the different dynamics between the characters and their friendships rather quickly all through newcomer Penny’s eyes and the gossip she hears as she becomes accustomed to the new bizarre haven she has found herself in.
I can’t give anything further away about the book but it had a lot more twists and turns as the tale develops, stories that had been bubbling away in the past books (along with characters like Mrs Claus of the Christmas Hotel) seemed to come much to the for yet without stealing the limelight. In fact I actually couldn’t believe how much I was starting to like Mrs Claus who up until now I had rather enjoyed loathing. It’s the way that Mr Magrs writes characters. In fact be they goodies or baddies, new faces or old friends, they all make you want to read more. Its the characters in both dramatic points and random very normal moments that add to the books charm. You might be ‘agog’ when evil things happen, yet its scenes like Brenda and Effie watching, erm, titillating old horror b-movies over cheesecake, Brenda rather excitedly and Effie rather snappily shocked, or Effie falling out with the local charity shop women, are become the scenes that stay with you for quite some time.
It’s the slight gossipy and often campy nature of ‘Hell’s Belles’ along with being reunited with Brenda and Effie and all the other wonderful characters that makes it so readable. I love how it’s cosy, spooky, funny and thrilling all at once. I also really liked the fact that just when you think you might know all the skeletons in the cupboards of Brenda’s B&B and Effie’s antique shop another one comes and takes you by surprise, again illuminating just how unusual these two wonderful women are, and often in the most funny and enjoyable of ways. It shows that this series has endless possibilities and I am excited about the next one, though I will be savouring reading it as I have nearly caught up with them all now. 8.5/10
This book was kindly sent by the publishers, you can see my other Brenda and Effie thoughts here.
So who else has had an adventure with Brenda and Effie and what did you think? Which other spooky series would you recommend I pop in my reading path at some point? Do you know of any other books set in Whitby (apart from ‘Dracula’ or ‘The Whitby Witches’ both I have read), as I am off there later in the year for something a bit special and would like a Whitby based tale to take along?