Conjugal Rights, By Paul Magrs

Frankenstein's back in Whitby to claim Brenda as his bride
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The Independent Culture

From transsexuals and teenagers to aliens and vamps, novelist Paul Magrs has always had a soft spot for oddbods and outsiders. Perhaps his finest creations, however, are Brenda and Effie, the geriatric stars of his Whitby-based gothic mysteries. The series began with Never the Bride and continued with Something Borrowed. His sleuthing twosome have successfully saved their home town from a host of supernatural horrors.

For newcomers, a little back story is needed. Brenda, a large, ponderous woman with a preference for high-necked blouses, is in fact the erstwhile bride of Frankenstein, recently reinvented as the landlady of an upmarket B&B. Her best friend Effie, a purveyor of antique knick-knacks, hails from a long line of Yorkshire witches. This third installment in their adventures sees their relationship severely tested, not by vampires and voodoo, but ill-starred romance.

After a century in hiding, the man that Brenda was made for – quite literally – has booked into Whitby's ever popular Christmas Hotel. Frank is home, and working his way back to Brenda, not only with "a burning love inside", but with several bolts through his neck. "A proper brute. A perfect bit of rough," is how the hotel's sinister proprietor, Mrs Claus, describes him, as she watches him boogie across a "gerontophile" dance floor to his long-promised bride.

It's never easy summarising Magrs's persuasively potty plots. Combining gothic comedy and high camp, he manages here to pull off a scenario that involves Brenda toppling over the clifftop to her death – only to find that Hell is an underworld Whitby, where her wedding preparations are in full swing. Travelling down a celestial escalator to her rescue comes Effie, but too late to save her friend from the honeymoon bed and some electrifying post-nups.

Going to Hell and back enables Magrs to resurrect characters killed off in previous novels, and tie up loose ends. As ever, conventional notions about gender and sexuality are upended in a novel that offers redemption for even the most monstrous creations. Magrs's easy-going conversational prose slips down as easily as before, lending his more fantastical flights a tender authenticity. We leave Brenda and Effie making up over a slice of cake, vowing never to let a man come between them again. This is ideal holiday entertainment, best enjoyed Brenda-style, with feet up on a comfy pouffe.

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