On the surface Brenda seems straightforward enough – an older woman who likes everything just so, she came to the sleepy seaside town of Whitby to run a B&B. She struck up a friendship with neighbour Effie, who runs an antique store called “Who’d Want This?” (a title Brenda thinks is most off-putting), and they enjoy the occasional fish dinner at Cod Almighty, and pie-and-peas night at the Christmas Hotel, where every day is Christmas Day.
But all is not as it seems in Whitby, and nor is Brenda. A freakish misfit who’s lived longer than any human possibly could have, her father tried to kill her within minutes of her life beginning and she lost her one chance at love almost two centuries ago. On the run from MIAOW (the Ministry of Incursions and other Wonders), Brenda has long become accustomed to her lot, but her experiences have given her eye for the bizarre, and there are many odd happenings in Whitby – from the beauty parlour that creates truly astonishing transformations, at an enormous cost, through unusually polite B&B guests hiding secrets of their own, to missing elves from the Christmas Hotel. And right in the thick of it are Brenda and Effie.
The layout of this novel is unusual – each event has its own chapter, with small references to the event in subsequent sections, almost as though the book is a collection of related short stories. The writing is adept and the characters are individualised, but I didn’t find myself engrossed in the plot or captured by the protagonists. There’s a sequel out, and possibly more in the works, but I don’t feel a great need to pursue the series further. It was a benign read that I don’t regret, but have no need to repeat. - Alex