The northern seaside town of Whitby is not short on local lore. In this sequel to the Gothic hit Never the Bride, novelist Paul Magrs continues to out-spook Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley with his heroine Brenda, the long-lived bride of Frankenstein, now the landlady of an upmarket B&B.
In her concealing make-up, high-necked blouses and jaunty wig, Brenda almost passes for normal in the town's winding lanes. With best friend Effie, the trim owner of a nearby junk shop, she forms a sleuthing double-act who protect the resort from supernatural menace. Magrs' previous novel found the two doing battle with a demonic plastic surgeon and the abbess of Whitby. Here, they come face to face with Goomba, a primeval god from another dimension who has taken the corporeal form of a wickerwork chair.
As in his other fiction – which includes Doctor Who novels and a children's novel featuring a gay love story – Magrs is at pains to describe the wider milieu in which his characters sink or swim. Key to the narrative is the hectic social life of Whitby hotelier Sheila Manchu, a former Soho "dolly bird" who has started to receive poison-pen letters about her association with her long-dead husband, criminal mastermind Mu-Mu Manchu. Brenda and Effie are summoned to the Hotel Miramar's "Grab-a-Granny Nite" to investigate, but instead of nailing the letter-writer, they find themselves on the trail of the aforementioned furniture.
It's never easy to summarise a novel by Magrs. Mixing comedy with fantasy, high art with popular culture, Brenda's occult antics include seafront encounters with the urbane lady-killer Kristoff Alucard, a feral Womanzee (half-woman, half-chimp), and love interest Henry Cleavis – Fenland's answer to JRR Tolkien. It's Cleavis who arrives in Brenda and Effie's hour of need, dismantling the latest threat to the high-rolling pensioners of the North-east.
As ever, Magrs's talent for fusing the mundane with the surreal proves an effective way of upending conventional notions about gender and sexuality. Underpinning the melodrama lies the tenderly drawn friendship between Brenda and Effie. A washed-up soul, Brenda has always considered herself monstrous, and beyond the pale. Despite the brief attentions of Henry Cleavis – at one point he comes dangerously close to de-robing her – only Effie accepts Brenda for the woman she is, down to her moving body parts and mismatched toes.
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