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Never The Bride
      Something Borrowed
Paul Magrs
      Paul Magrs
Headline Review, 245 pages
      Headline Review, 320 pages

Never The Bride
Something Borrowed
Paul Magrs
Paul Magrs (pronounced "maws") was born in 1969 in Jarrow, County Durham, Britain. In 1988, he attened Lancaster University, obtaining a first class BA degree in 1991. He then studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Lancaster University and, from 1992 to 1995, he was at Lancaster University working on his PhD on Angela Carter. In 1997, he moved to Norwich to take up a post of full time lecturer at the University of East Anglia teaching English Literature and Creative Writing. In 1998, he began to write for the BBC series, Dr Who.

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sandy Auden

Everyone living in Whitby has a secret. A small English coastal resort it may be, but it is also hides some strange and curious people. For starters, there's Mrs Claus, the maniacal owner of the Christmas Hotel -- a place where they're perpetually celebrating Christmas for the hordes of coach parties and local pensioners. Then there's Mr Danby, the owner of the spookily named Deadly Boutique, where beauty and youthful looks come at a high price. And don't forget Effie, the old lady at the Junk Shop with her dubious set of ancestors, and Effie's best friend Brenda, the Bed & Breakfast lady with some of the biggest secrets of all.

Brenda feels like she's finally found home. After years (and she means years) of travelling she feels she can finally put down roots and just settle into Whitby with ease, with nothing better to do than scrub her little B&B to a sparkling shine and cook sumptuous meals for her guests. How little did she know. Ever the centre of supernatural goings-on, Whitby soon becomes the focus of some unusual and unnerving events as the Deadly Boutique does its makeovers on the local denizens with dangerous side-effects; and Effie and Brenda embark on spot of sleuthing to uncover the truth behind the missing elves at the Christmas Hotel…

With so many characters and mysteries going on, it's no surprise that the structure of Never the Bride is split into individual stories, each one dealing with a different mystery or character. Similar to Sergei Lukyanko's Night Watch trilogy, you get a small sense of closure at the end of each story; but there's also an underlying arc that builds in momentum towards the end of the book and starts to explain how all the stories are actually linked. Because of this, there's loads of plot happening, all over the place, so you'll have to pay attention to catch all the clues.

The attraction of this series sits firmly with the two central characters of Brenda and Effie. Seemingly a couple of old ladies, they dodder about the town like two gossipy Miss Marples who keep getting the huff with each other. Sweet and bitchy in turns, their sharp tongues and unique view of events is adorable and addictive as they solve supernatural puzzles and reveal more about themselves in the process.

It would be gorgeous piece of story-telling all round, if it weren't for the disappointing ending. Raising more questions than it answers, the open-ended events are utterly unfulfilling after such a promising start. If you're looking for even the remotest sliver of satisfaction at the end of book, make sure that you have a copy of volume two, Something Borrowed at hand for immediate reading.

Picking up in the Spring (after the terrible of events of the previous winter) Something Borrowed sees Brenda and Effie called to the Miramar Hotel to help the owner, ex-gangster's moll Sheila Manchu, discover the author of a particularly awful poison pen letter. As several more letters are delivered, the evidence seems to be pointing in a direction that Brenda can't believe.

Fortunately, Brenda is supported by a face from her (distant) past -- Henry Cleavis. But the answer to the mysterious letters, and the increasingly bizarre happenings at the Miramar B-B-Q nights, involves Brenda's forgotten adventures. If only she could remember what had happened to her and Henry Cleavis sixty years ago…

This second volume hits a higher satisfaction score than Never The Bride. Paul Magrs starts to have much more fun with his characters now that he has established their credentials. There are connections turning up everywhere and some fascinating background filling for Brenda. Not only do we discover more about her past shenanigans but we also discover some not so tasteful realities about how she lives today, given her secret identity.

There's a less rigid structure this time round too. All the stories feed fully into the overall arc rather than being individual tales -- although Brenda's past life does stand almost independently within the main Whitby plotline. The stop-start feel of book one has gone and Something Borrowed builds smoothly to a fun climax and the long awaited sense of satisfaction at the end.

Together, the books are an excellent start. The series promises to be an entertaining blend of dark fantasy with mysteries and irreverent one-liners. See how many horror genre references you can spot and pick out your favourite comments (like Brenda's statement about Dracula: "He's lucky I didn't smack him one, the old fop").

Let's hope we'll be reading more about Brenda and her unique problems in Whitby very soon.

Copyright © 2007 Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and a combination interviewer/reviewer for and She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.

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