‘Never The Bride’ – Brenda and Effie Mysteries #1 by Paul Magrs

Brenda has had a long and eventful life. She has come to Whitby to run her B&B and live a quiet and peaceful life. She and her best friend, Effie, like nothing better than going out for tea and keeping their eyes open for any of the mysterious goings on in town.

But the oddest thing in Whitby may well be Brenda herself. With her terrible scars, her strange lack of a surname, or the fact that she takes two different shoe sizes, Brenda should have known that people, well, as unique as she is, just aren’t destined for a quiet life.

This is a strange, quirky but engaging book that I mentally retitled as ‘Strange Tales From Whitby, Told By An Even Stranger Person‘.

The story is told by Brenda who owns and runs a small B&B in Whitby. The book opens with Brenda introducing herself:

I love it here.

It’s the only place I could have settled down. I’ve never found a town like it, never in my long. long life

My name is Brenda. Hello!

Since the beginning of summer I have lived here, deliciously inconspicuous: just one more Bed and Breakfast lady in a resort that teems with Bed and Breakfasts Here, the streets are narrow and intricate; the rooftops are ramshackle and the wind is biting. The seagulls are as big as Yorkshire terriers and, for a good nine months of the year, this town is steeped in a thick sea mist… and that’s probably a good thing.

There are things here you don’t necessarily want to see.

Keep your head down, Brenda. That’s what I tell myself. Fry those sausages and eggs and bacon. Make those beds. Be welcoming. Be at home.

Any horror fan reading this is going to wonder if Brenda was drawn to Whitby because it’s a picturesque port on the Yorkshire coast, or because it was the port where Dracula’s ship the Demeter ran aground with not a soul aboard except the near-dead captain lashed to the wheel.

Whitby: picturesque seaside town
Whitby: where Dracula landed in England

To me, ‘Never The Bride’ read like a TV series of the strange and weird kind, aimed at gathering a cult following amongst those who are amused by the benignly bizarre and who enjoy uncovering genre references. Each chapter is a complete ‘episode’ in which Brenda and her friend and neighbour, Effie get involved with Whitby’s strangest visitors and residents, solving a mystery while moving the overall story arc forward. As the two of them discover the true price of visiting The Deadly Boutique for a makeover, or the downside of working as an elf at the Christmas Hotel, or the secrets the family staying at Brenda’s B&B is trying to hide or what a ghost-hunting reality TV crew will find in Effie’s antique shop, we gradually discover who Brenda really is and the legacy Effie has inherited from the generations of women who lived in Whitby before her.

The adventures are mild and amusing with some moments of tension. A bit how Dr Who was before the Doctor became The Oncoming Storm and The Destroyer Of Worlds. I liked Brenda. Effie can be a bit of a pain but somehow that made her friendship with Brenda more convincing.

By the end of the book, Brenda’s origin story and Effie’s legacy have been revealed and the two of them are established as the go-to team for dealing with anything weird in Whitby and we have reason to believe that there will be a lot of weird in Whitby.

‘Never The Bride’ made me smile. It was original and well-told, if slightly chaotic. I’m sure I’ll be back for more but this is the kind of series that I can’t read back to back without it losing its edge – like eating a whole box of chocolates in one sitting.

Paul Magrs is a British writer and lecturer based out of Manchester. 

He published his first novel, Marked For Life in 1995. He has published thirty-three novels including books about transtemporal adventuress Iris Wildthyme and the Brenda And Effie Mysteries which are currently being adapted for television.

His books for children and young adults include Strange Boy, Exchange and his Lora trilogy, Lost On Mars, The Martian Girl and The Heart Of Mars

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