Something Borrowed, By Paul Magrs

Buffy crossed with Miss Marple
Click to follow

The characters at the heart of Paul Magrs' novels have always been a bit out of the ordinary. We've had tattooed ladies, transsexuals, any number of strange boys and a Hammer Horror vamp who may or may not be the spawn of the devil. His last novel, Never the Bride, saw several of these elements come together in Whitby, where dear old Brenda and her friend Effie uncover a host of horrors lurking behind the faded shop fronts and dusty net curtains.

In fact, just about everyone in the book is a monster, in the sense that they aren't fully human. Vampires, witches, aliens – they're all there and feeding off the locals in the town that inspired Bram Stoker, and giving Brenda a few surprises as she tries to lead a quiet life as landlady of a bed and breakfast.

Never the Bride was the literary equivalent of Abbott and Costello meeting Dracula, Frankenstein and the Wolfman all in the same movie, and I wasn't too sure about it at first. Magrs has always dealt well with outsiders, but when every character has a dark secret there's less room for contrast and the kind of context that brings alienation to life and gives people real feeling. But Brenda developed into a stranger and more complex character than I initially gave her credit for, and by the end of the book I was convinced that she's one of the author's finest creations.

I'm happy to report that Brenda is back in this sequel, and if you've read the first book you'll know by now that she's very special indeed, "a thing of shreds and patches" stitched together from the parts other grave-robbers couldn't reach. One leg is longer than the other, and she hides her scars with make-up. Yes, Brenda is the Bride of Frankenstein, which should make her a monster but somehow makes her the most human and humane character that ever walked Whitby's streets, confronted by demons and ghouls of all descriptions. There's Count Alucard, Sheila Manchu and Jessie the Zombie Womanzee, not to mention Goomba and the evil Mrs Claus.

When she's not battling monsters in the manner of Buffy crossed with Miss Marple, Brenda must face a few demons of her own. Who exactly is Henry Cleavis, and how come he knows so much about her past? Who is sending the poison pen-letters? And who – or what – is causing an almighty racket each night outside her bedroom door?

Gothic horror and situation comedy don't always mix well. The danger is that everything is reduced to camp. Added to this, Magrs brings a large helping of pathos as Brenda's back-story is laid bare. To pull all this off at all takes some doing. To pull it off so well takes the combined talents of Alan Bennett, Angela Carter and The League of Gentlemen. The story ends with Magrs paving the way for another sequel and I, for one, can't wait.