Sinister Dexter (PorterGirl 3) by Lucy Brazier

Tea-bag crisis strikes Old College!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Things have got very dark indeed in Old College since we last visited. The new Bursar, Professor Dexter Sinistrov, whom we last met while he was engaged in nefarious goings-on in the neighbouring college, has now settled into his role. His first priority has been to cut the catering budget, leading to a serious shortage of biscuits in the Porters Lodge – and they’re down to their last three tea-bags! This tragedy, along with the small matter of two corpses being found at the bottom of the garden, means our beloved Deputy Head Porter has her hands full. Especially since The Dean seems to think the best way to solve the crime would be for him to dress up as Zorro, Head Porter is busily leading a double life online, and Porter is becoming ever more romantically involved with the local police sergeant. Mind you, Deputy Head Porter herself doesn’t seem totally immune to the charms of DCI Thompson…

….“Oh, you’re a porter, are you?” Professor Palmer seats himself and leans over, perilously close to my breakfast. I place a defensive forearm around the plate. “You’re rather pretty to be carrying bags, don’t you think?”
….It takes every ounce of temperance to refrain from stabbing him in the face with my fork. Had it not already got bacon on it, I’m afraid this would have very likely been the outcome.
….“Porters,” I emphasise the upper-case P through gritted teeth, “are not the carriers of bags, but the keepers of keys.”

I shall start with my usual disclaimer – I’ve been blog buddies with Lucy for years now, so you may have to assume that I’m biased…

This series has been loads of fun since the beginning, when it started out as a serialisation on Lucy’s blog. The first book, First Lady of the Keys, (previously titled Secret Diary of PorterGirl), was taken directly from the blog and occasionally showed its origins by being a bit loose in structure perhaps, especially in the early chapters. But the second book, The Vanishing Lord, and this one are both much tighter and better plotted. There is a running story arc in the background so the books are very definitely meant to be read in order. In fact, the opening of this one contains lots of spoilers for the earlier books.

With this third book, I feel Lucy has really taken a step up in terms of plotting, giving this one a distinct story of its own as well as progressing the background story. A young student and his boyfriend are found dead in each others arms in the College gardens, with no visible signs of how they died. DCI Thomson and his team carry out the official investigation, while The Dean and his team carry out an unofficial one. In the background, the usual machinations of the Fellowship of Old College continue, with suggestions that the Vicious Circle, a secret society within the College who mete out their own form of vengeance against anyone who they feel endangers college tradition, might be back in operation. The mysterious and menacing Professor Sinistrov is acting suspiciously, but is he part of the Vicious Circle? Or, as The Dean suspects, a Russian spy? Or does he have a secret agenda of his own? Or is he simply anti-biscuit? No-one can be sure, but if Deputy Head Porter doesn’t get a decent cup of tea soon, there’ll be ructions…

….“I think it’s fair to say that we are of the opinion that Maurinio and his rugged companion were engaged in a personal relationship?”
….The Dean’s approach to the subject matter is amusing. Which is why what he says next is all the more surprising.
….“I would have made an excellent homosexual, Deputy Head Porter” he continues, wistfully. “I’ve always had above average good looks and an unusually superior sense of style.”
….“Yes” I say, tentatively. “I think there is somewhat more to it than that, Sir.” But he isn’t listening. He has found a crusted stain on the hem of his jumper and is scratching at it furiously.

Lucy Brazier

The story is only part of the fun of these books though. Mostly it’s about the quirky bunch of characters Lucy has created and the strange and esoteric life of this ancient institution based, not altogether exaggeratedly, on one of our real much-revered universities. The Dean continues to be at the centre of most of the daily mayhem, while Head Porter’s character is gradually deepening as we learn more about his life outside the college. While totally loyal to the College and her colleagues, Deputy Head Porter observes them with an objective and humorous eye, and continues to try to get everyone to behave a little more sensibly – a hopeless task, I fear! As always, there are some set-piece comedy scenes – I’m proud to claim a tiny bit of credit for being part of the crowd of blog followers who forced Lucy to take her characters off to an open-mic night disguised as a struggling rock band!

Great fun! I’m even willing to overlook the fact that it’s written in my pet hate present tense. If you haven’t visited Old College yet, I heartily recommend you do so the very next time you need cheering up. But remember to read them in order! And Lucy, I hope you’re hard at work on the next one…

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….Luckily for Frederick – or the Palatine, as he was called in England – he had some potent weapons in his wooing arsenal. Although his property was in Germany, he had been educated in France by his suave uncle the duke of Bouillon. The duke could not have provided a more thorough or excellent preparation for royal lovemaking. Whatever else the results of Frederick’s studies, his uncle had made sure that he knew how to dress, that his manners were charming, that he spoke French to perfection, and, more important, that he was well versed in the art of romance.
….Judging by the recollections of an observer who chronicled the Palatine’s visit to England, Frederick’s first performance at court was nothing short of masterful. He flattered James [. . .] conciliated Anne [. . .] joked with Henry [. . .] and then knocked it completely out of the park with Elizabeth: “Stooping low to take up the lowest part of her Garment to kiss it, she most gracefully courtesying lower than accustomed, and with her Hand staying him from that humblest Reverence, gave him at his rising a fair Advantage (which he took) of kissing her.”

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….All things considered, the new academic year has not got off to a very auspicious start. No tea and biscuits in the Porters’ Lodge, a murderous Russian inducted as our new Bursar and now two dead bodies at the bottom of the gardens. When I first came to Old College a year ago, the arbitrary arrival of dead bodies used to worry me a bit. I soon learnt that, for some reason, academia is more dangerous than would first appear and for reasons harking back to the ancient founding of the College, prominent figures of The Fellowship meeting an untimely demise was par for the course. And, having also learned what a conniving bunch of power-crazed narcissists they all are, this seems perfectly reasonable. The politics of the academic elite make the machinations of Ancient Rome look like a bun fight and many of the devious buggers deserve everything they get. Not all of them. But quite a few of them.

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….Jane, observing Selena’s long glance of perfect balance and equanimity resting upon Nicholas, immediately foresaw that she would be disposed in the front seat with Felix, while Selena stepped with her arch-footed poise into the back, where Nicholas would join her, and she foresaw that this arrangement would come about with effortless elegance. She had no objection to Felix but she could not hope to win him for herself, having nothing to offer a man like Felix. She felt she had a certain something, though small, to offer Nicholas, this being her literary and brain-work side, which Selena lacked. It was in fact a misunderstanding of Nicholas. She vaguely thought of him as a more attractive Rudi Bittesch, to imagine he would receive more pleasure and reassurance from a literary girl than simply a girl. It was the girl in Jane that had moved him to kiss her at the party. She might have gone further with Nicholas without her literary leanings. This was a mistake she continued to make in her relations with men, inferring from her own preference for men of books and literature their preference for women from the same business, and it never really occurred to her that literary men, if they like women at all, do not want literary women, but girls.

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….The devil makes work for idle hands. The memory of his mother saying those words was so sharp that he almost turned round, expecting to see her sitting in the chair by the fire, the belt filled with horsehair round her waist, one needle stuck into it, held firm, while the other flew. She could knit a pair of stockings in an afternoon, a plain jersey in a week. She was known as the best knitter in the south, though she’d never enjoyed doing the fancy Fair Isle patterns. What point is there in that? she’d say, putting the stress on the last word so she’d almost spit it out. Will it keep dee ony warmer?
….
He wondered what other work the devil might find for him.

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….Tear the collar of your last shirt at your throat, dear heart! Tear the hair of your head, thin with your joyless, heavy life; bite your lips till the blood comes; wring your work-scarred hands and beat yourself against the floor on the threshold of your empty hut! The master is missing from your hut, your husband is missing, your children are fatherless; and remember that no-one will caress you or your orphans, no-one will press your head to his breast at night, when you drop worn out with weariness; and no-one will say to you as once he said: “Don’t worry, Aniska, we’ll manage somehow!” You will not get another husband, for labour, anxieties, children have withered you and lined you. No father will come for your half-naked, snivelling children. You yourself will have to do all the ploughing, the dragging, panting with the over-great strain. You will have to pitchfork the sheaves from the reaper, to throw them onto the wagon, to raise the heavy bundles of wheat on the pitchfork, feeling the while that something is rending beneath your belly. And afterwards you will writhe with pain, covering yourself with your rags and issuing with blood.

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 156…

Episode 156…

Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!! A massive drop in the TBR since I last reported! Down 4 to 214! But I’m now stuck in the middle of a bunch of giant tomes and a parcel is heading my way, so the slide has probably come to an end for a bit…

(Apparently he was fine!)

Here are a few more that should fall over the edge soon…

Film History

Courtesy of Simon & Schuster. Last year I was blown away by the experience of reading Arthur C Clarke’s book and watching Stanley Kubrick’s film together, as they were intended to be. So I couldn’t resist this book about the creation of these two masterpieces, or, perhaps, joint masterpiece…

The Blurb says: Celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the film’s release, this is the definitive story of the making of 2001: A Space Odyssey, acclaimed today as one of the greatest films ever made, including the inside account of how director Stanley Kubrick and writer Arthur C. Clarke created this cinematic masterpiece.

Regarded as a masterpiece today, 2001: A Space Odyssey received mixed reviews on its 1968 release. Author Michael Benson explains how 2001 was made, telling the story primarily through the two people most responsible for the film, Kubrick and science fiction legend Arthur C. Clarke. A colourful nonfiction narrative packed with memorable characters and remarkable incidents, Space Odyssey provides a 360-degree view of this extraordinary work, tracking the film from Kubrick and Clarke’s first meeting in New York in 1964 through its UK production from 1965-1968, during which some of the most complex sets ever made were merged with visual effects so innovative that they scarcely seem dated today. A concluding chapter examines the film’s legacy as it grew into it current justifiably exalted status.

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Humorous Crime

The third instalment of Lucy Brazier’s PorterGirl series. I shall stock up in readiness with stacks of sausage sandwiches, copious buckets of tea and a barrel-load of biscuits to fortify myself for whatever skulduggery awaits me in Old College this time… 😱

The Blurb says: “Sometimes the opposite of right isn’t wrong. It’s left.”

Tragedy strikes once more at Old College… The Porters’ Lodge is down to its last tea bag and no one has seen a biscuit for over a week. Almost as troubling are the two dead bodies at the bottom of the College gardens and a woman has gone missing. The Dean is convinced that occult machinations are to blame, Deputy Head Porter suspects something closer to home.

The formidable DCI Thompson refuses to be sidelined and a rather unpleasant Professor gets his comeuppance. As the body count rises, Head Porter tries to live a secret double life and The Dean believes his job is under threat from the Russian Secret Service. Deputy Head Porter finds herself with her hands full keeping Old College running smoothly as well as defending herself against the sinister intentions of the new Bursar.

Spies, poisoning, murder – and none of this would be any problem at all, if only someone would get the biscuits out and put the kettle on…

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Gothic Horror

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Regulars will know I love Sir Arthur nearly as much as I love Dr Watson and Darcy, so I couldn’t resist begging a copy of this new collection of all his darker tales. I’ve read several of them before and even reviewed one or two as Tuesday Terror! posts, but there are plenty more which will be new to me. I can barely resist rubbing my hands in glee…

The Blurb says: Arthur Conan Doyle was the greatest genre writer Britain has ever produced. Throughout a long writing career, he drew on his own medical background, his travels, and his increasing interest in spiritualism and the occult to produce a spectacular array of gothic tales. Many of Doyle’s writings are recognized as the very greatest tales of terror. They range from hauntings in the polar wasteland to evil surgeons and malevolent jungle landscapes.

This collection brings together over thirty of Conan Doyle’s best gothic tales. Darryl Jones’s introduction discusses the contradictions in Conan Doyle’s very public life – as a medical doctor who became obsessed with the spirit world, or a British imperialist drawn to support Irish Home Rule – and shows the ways in which these found articulation in that most anxious of all literary forms, the Gothic.

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Spark on Audio

Having recently thoroughly enjoyed my first encounter with Muriel Spark in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, I decided to try to fit another one in for the second phase of Heavenali’s #ReadingMuriel2018, which she’s running to celebrate Spark’s centenary year. And I thought it might be fun to listen to Juliet Stevenson reading it to me…

The Blurb says: It is 1945; a time of cultural and political change, and also one of slender means. Spark’s evocative and sharply drawn novel focuses on a group of women living together in a hostel in Kensington who face new challenges in uncertain times. The novel is at once dramatic and character-based, and shows Muriel Spark at the height of her literary powers. Juliet Stevenson reads with her customary wit and intelligence this powerful masterpiece.

(Is this the shortest blurb in the history of the universe? I like it!)

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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The Vanishing Lord (PorterGirl 2) by Lucy Brazier

Missing paintings and medieval rumpy-pumpy…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

In this second book, PorterGirl has settled in now at Old College and begun to understand some of the weird traditions. So when the famous portrait of the college’s founder Lord Layton disappears, she knows not to call the police – the college keeps its problems to itself. Unfortunately the police aren’t quite so au fait with the college’s rules, so when word leaks out, they come snooping around and soon begin to suspect that the wall of silence they’re being met with from the Dean and porters suggests they must know more about the alleged theft than they’re letting on. Meantime a mysterious man is spotted around the college – who is he? And why does Deputy Head Porter keep getting the feeling she’s being followed? And did the Master of neighbouring Hawkins College die a natural death or is he one in the long line of mysterious murders that afflict these ancient institutions? And, most importantly, can Deputy Head Porter manage to filch a few more giant cookies from Head of Catering?? A girl has to keep her strength up after all…

The PorterGirl stories originated as a blog in which Lucy fictionalised her real life experiences as the first female Deputy Head Porter at one of our most ancient colleges. One hopes she exaggerates quite a bit! Lucy is a long-time blog buddy of mine, so you will have to assume that I’m biased.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this second outing and felt it was a significant step up in terms of structure and writing from the first. Knowing Lucy, I’m aware that following the initial issue of the first book she was signed up by a publisher and, as a result, this book has had a professional edit. One of my criticisms of The First Lady of the Keys (originally published as Secret Diary of PorterGirl) was that sometimes the bloggy nature of its origin showed through, with the early chapters reading more like rather loosely related journal entries before she got properly into her stride later in the book. This slight problem has been eliminated in the new book, so that it flows much better, with the humorous digressions arising out of the plot rather than impeding it.

This is not to suggest it has become sensible – I’d never accuse Lucy of that! The characters are just as quirky, the plot proudly struts far over the credibility line, the vocabulary is as grandiloquent as ever, and the humour takes priority.

Deputy Head Porter

The main characters are developed a bit more in this outing. Porter gets a bit of a love interest while Head Porter is behaving very mysteriously, leading to all kinds of suspicions as to what he might be up to. The Dean continues to cause mayhem wherever he goes, and seems to look to Deputy Head Porter to provide him with with a constant supply of mysteries for them to investigate – which in Old College isn’t too tricky since barely a day goes by without some poor academic keeling over under unexplained circumstances. There are some great humorous set pieces, like the drunken night in the Dean’s office – or, to be more specific, the resulting hangover the following day. Or the occasion when the Dean thinks it might be a good idea for them all to don fancy dress and invade the neighbouring college…

To add to the fun, Deputy Head Porter stumbles across an ancient diary kept by one of her earliest predecessors and we are treated to occasional extracts. The diary explains the origins of some of the traditions which have baffled Deputy Head Porter, but also tells us a good deal about the diarist’s complicated love-life, all in deliciously mock medieval language. We also find out a bit about the original Lord Layton, the man behind the portrait – a man who makes the Borgias seem quite cuddly.

Fie! Today hast been a wonder, I tellst thee. The wants of these educated gentlefolk taketh it out of a man. The Order of the Lesser Dragon hast invited other learned muggins to the College to work as tutors and run matters. They are naming themselves ‘The Fellowship’ and now I wonder about what the mynster said ere about them having the occult ways because since they arrived the morrow there hast been strange and terrible ceremonials in the chapel and they weren’t no ways of God I can tell thee that as I know well the ways of God, which can also be strange and terrible, but leastways there is the promyse of Heaven at the end of it and all you get at the end of College days is a fancye parchment with your name on it.

If I was being hypercritical (which, as you know, I am!) I’d mention that, just occasionally, the high-flown language which is a trademark of the books leads to words being used when they don’t quite mean what they’re being used to mean, which makes this pedant twitchy. And, viewing it as a standalone, I’d suggest the ending is perhaps a little anti-climactic. However in many respects this is a serial rather than a series, so there are plenty of hanging threads ready to be picked up and woven into the next volume.

All-in-all, a most enjoyable romp – the kind of book that brightens up a dull day. I hope Lucy is working hard on the next episode!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

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PS My apologies for suddenly disappearing and not responding to comments etc for the last few days. I had a mini domestic trauma, involving cat fight, emergency vet, stitches, etc – all’s well though. Tuppence is almost fully recovered, and my wounds should heal soon too – she really doesn’t like being put in a catbox!

And now I’m disappearing again…gotta support my boys…

See y’all in a couple of weeks! 😀

Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….The Dean strides a little and pours himself another whisky. “Now, there is another thing, but I really shouldn’t be discussing it with the College servants.”
….“Alright then, Sir. I’ll be on my way.”
….“I intend to discuss it anyway. Sit down.”
….I obediently take a seat on the most humble looking pew I can find, an unsteady wicker affair placed near The Dean’s enormous fish tank. Quite why a man such as The Dean would keep tropical fish is a mystery. Whilst they are known for their calming properties, The Dean is a chap who is far happier being anything but calm. Maybe he shouts at them when there is no one else around.

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Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen

….Lenin instantly understood the importance of the words Bolshevik [majority] and Menshevik [minority]. He never gave up the name for the group that followed him, or the psychological advantage it won. For long periods over the next few years the Mensheviks in fact far outnumbered the Bolsheviks, in Russia and among the revolutionaries in exile, and they were the majority in a series of future votes at various congresses and conferences. Yet they still accepted the name that Lenin had given them and they referred to themselves as Mensheviks. It was their ‘brand’ and Lenin knew how to exploit it. ‘A name he knew was a programme, a distilled essence, more powerful in its impact upon the untutored mind than dozens of articles in learned journals,’ one of his comrades said. It was foolish of the Mensheviks to allow themselves to keep that name permanently. It showed how tactically inept they were. Martov was a decent, erudite, highly clever man but a hopeless politician, no match for Lenin. If Lenin had been the minority he would have changed the name at once to something else – True Iskrists, Real Marxists, Orthodox Marxists, Revolutionary Wing of Social Democracy – anything but ‘the Minority’.

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….Julie had been wrong to get her hopes up. The Evil One had come back even more terrible than before. She didn’t know what he’d been up to while he was away but there was a row of badly done stitches over his ribs encrusted with blood. That couldn’t be healthy.
….Julie hoped it was some girl who fought back hard, did him some damage. If only she’d managed to kill him – but no woman could fight that brute and win. Perhaps someone’s boyfriend or father caught him in the act, ripped him off her, had a weapon.
….She was glad he was hurt, even if he’d taken it out on her this morning. Even if she had a busted lip and a bruised eye, and had to put her cheek against the floor, unable to move for what must have been two hours, it was worth it to savor his fresh wounds. She decided to imagine that whoever did that to him, did it for her. An act of revenge without even knowing it.

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….The night was filled with soft, mysterious sounds. Close by in the corridor, water was dripping from a washstand, measuredly, with pauses. There was whispering somewhere behind a window. Somewhere, where the kitchen garden began, beds of cucumber were being watered, water was being poured from one bucket into another, with a clink of the chain drawing it from the well.
….It smelled of all the flowers in the world at once, as if the earth had lain unconscious during the day and was now coming to consciousness through all these scents. And from the countess’s centuries-old garden, so littered with windfallen twigs and branches that it had become impassable, there drifted, as tall as the trees, enormous as the wall of a big house, the dusty, thickety fragrance of an old linden coming into bloom.
….Shouts came from the street beyond the fence to the right. A soldier on leave was acting up there, doors slammed, snippets of some song beat their wings.

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From the archives…

….I have never understood how any woman can want positive discrimination. In the 1970s the attitude was robust: give us equal opportunities and we will show that we are as good as the men. In the 1990s that became: we can’t manage without special measures to smooth our paths and we want advantages over the men in order to compete…The culture of whingeing grievance is silly and sad. It lets down women and is hardly worthy of the heirs to the suffragettes.

(Click for full review)

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So…are you tempted?

Launch Day! The Vanishing Lord by Lucy Brazier

PorterGirl’s secrets revealed!

Lucy Brazier

Today is the day that one of my oldest and bestest blog buddies, Lucy Brazier, publishes the second book in her PorterGirl series, so I invited her along to answer some tough, penetrating questions that I think will help us to get deep inside her weird and wonderful mind. But first, a little about the books…

In real life, when Lucy became the first female Deputy Head Porter at one of Britain’s most ancient and prestigious colleges, she began writing about her experiences, which gradually turned into a humorous, fictionalised blog, and ultimately into what has become the PorterGirl series of novels. Being a huge lover of crime fiction, it’s not surprising Lucy decided to write in that genre, while anyone who has followed her blog will be equally unsurprised to know the emphasis is firmly on fairly rumbustious humour.

Previously…

First Lady of the Keys

(originally published as Secret Diary of Portergirlhere’s my review)

The Blurb says: ‘Porters are not the carriers of bags, they are the keepers of keys!’

As one of the most ancient and esteemed establishments of the academic elite, Old College is in for something of a shock when it appoints its very first female Deputy Head Porter. She struggles to get to grips with this eccentric world, far removed from everyday life. PorterGirl, the proverbial square peg in the round hole, begins to wonder quite what she is doing here.

First Lady Of The Keys is a touching, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, glimpse into a world that is usually reserved for the upper echelons of society. Whether she is chasing after naked students, drinking copious amounts of tea or getting embroiled in quaint, polite murders, Deputy Head Porter is never far from adventure.

Amazon UK Link                    Amazon US Link

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Launching today!

The Vanishing Lord

The Blurb says: There’s nothing quite so annoying as having the police arrive when you are trying to cover up a crime that may or may not have happened. Lord Bernard has died unexpectedly. Is Deputy Head Porter being framed? Head Porter just wants to be kept out of the picture.

In this fast-paced whimsical British romp, a priceless work of art – the portrait of Old College founding father Lord Arthur Layton – has gone missing and with the death of Lord Bernard, the Master of arch rivals Hawkins College, there is nothing for it but for our heroine to don her trusty bowler hat and embark upon another eccentric investigation.

In this sequel to the début PorterGirl novel, First Lady of The Keys, Old College’s first and only female Porter must find the portrait or it will be her that is flat on the canvas and framed like a kipper. Tenacious detectives, ill-advised disguises, saucy medieval literature and Russian spies conspire to confuse matters further in this entertaining escapade.

Amazon UK Link                     Amazon US Link

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Maybe Old College looks something like this…

Interview with Lucy

FF: I understand you were a police officer before becoming Deputy Head Porter. Is the rumour true that you changed jobs because the porters get better hats?

Lucy: The hats are actually very similar, although for style and comfort, the Porters’ hats have the edge. They aren’t reinforced so don’t offer quite so much protection from marauding murders, which are apparently much more prevalent in Old College than the mean streets outside the walls.

Deputy Head Porter

FF: What was the first hat you remember wearing?

Lucy: My mum has a photograph of me wearing my grandad’s flat cap when I was about two! And very pleased I look about it, too! Before you ask, this photograph no longer exists, anywhere, ever, at all. And mum if you are reading this – don’t you dare say any different!

(FF: Lucy’s mum, if you’re reading, there could be a month’s supply of chocolate for you in this…)

FF: Who are your major writing influences?

Lucy: Oscar Wilde is my absolute literary idol. A mere mortal such as myself cannot hope to scale those kinds of heights, but he did inspire my love of ‘purple prose’ and my predilection for using ten words where one will do. Terry Pratchett is also a big influence. I’ve never much liked fantasy, but his wry observations of life – from the smallest details to the big, ponderous questions – really struck a chord with me and his use of humour is always very clever. Agatha Christie’s beautiful renditions of quintessential British characters and settings have been a huge influence and I have to put a good word in for the mighty Anthony Horowitz, although when I read his work I feel I should chuck in my pen and stop embarrassing myself!

FF: Deputy Head Porter is reputed to make a jolly good cuppa. Please share your tea-making secrets…

Lucy: Never let the water boil completely, you want to bathe those lovely little tea leaves – not cook them! A teapot is always best, but perfectly acceptable tea can be made directly in the mug. I suggest a large mug, so the bag can stretch itself out and relax a bit. Let it sit for a few minutes then squeeze gently with a spoon against the side – two squeezes should be plenty. It doesn’t matter whether milk goes in first or last, my personal preference is last.

(FF: Ooh, controversial! Hordes of milk-firsters will be sharpening their pitchforks…)

FF: A second book suggests a series. Are you planning on more?

Lucy: Oh yes, there are plans for seven books. I have outlines for them all and a big, dramatic finale for the end. Also a very surprising ending for Deputy Head Porter that will have been obvious from the start, for those reading closely enough.

(FF: Intriguing!! Hmm…perhaps…)

FF: Your deep love for the delectable Captain Hastings is well known. So that begs the question… if Captain Hastings and Head Porter were captured by a tribe of cannibals and you could save only one, who should prepare himself to go in the cooking pot?

Lucy: Oooh – tough one! What a fiendish question. I’m afraid it will have to be Hastings – I need Head Porter for the next five books. Also Captain Hastings will probably taste a lot better.

(FF: I’m shocked! Save me a leg…)

Head Porter and Captain Hastings
(As played by Paul Butterworth and Hugh Fraser)

FF: Sausage sandwiches figure highly in Deputy Head Porter’s life. To me, as a Scot, sausage sandwiches are normally made with square sausages, but which is Deputy Head Porter’s sausage of choice? Brown sauce, ketchup or mustard? Or do you prefer your sausages bare?

Lucy: I’m not averse to a nice bit of Lorne sausage myself! Deputy Head Porter is indeed quite fanatical about sausages. A nice cumberland with a bit of brown sauce is ideal for breakfast, but mustard is preferred for a lunchtime sausage.

FF: Tell us a secret you’ve never before revealed about…

Deputy Head Porter – she has a phobia of nuns.

(FF: Like this one?)

The Dean – his real name is revealed in the new book!

The Master’s Cat – the cat really exists and is even more vicious in real life.

Head Porter – he has secret ambitions to become a rock star… this is explored in the third book. (FF: The mind boggles!!)

Lucy Brazier – Eeek! Okay, this is embarrassing, so don’t tell anyone. I genuinely get Morgan Freeman and Martin Freeman mixed up. I know they look nothing alike, I just struggle to remember which one is which. Also, the little toe on my right foot is shaped like a triangle!

(FF: Yes, one can see why that would be an easy mistake to make… *shakes head sadly*)

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Thanks, Lucy! Very revealing – it’ll be a while before I can chat to you without the toe image floating into my mind. My copy of The Vanishing Lord arrived on my Kindle this morning – can’t wait to find out the Dean’s name!

Hope the launch is a huge success! 😀

TBR Thursday 94…

Episode 94…

Oh, dear! The TBR has leapt up 4 to 180 this week! How did that happen?? A couple of NetGalley publishers did a clear-out, I think, and I suddenly got approved for two books I “wished” for ages ago, before I became the Mistress of Willpower you all know I now am. Then Amazon reduced the price of a couple that were in my wishlist, so they almost don’t really count, right? So, as you can tell, I am entirely innocent in the matter!

Still, here are a few that will be dropping off the TBR soonish…

Factual

henry VCourtesy of the wonderful Yale University Press, who are doing everything they can to fill the many, many gaps in my knowledge of history. Once more unto the breach, dear friends…

The Blurb says: Shakespeare’s centuries-old portrayal of Henry V established the king’s reputation as a warmongering monarch, a perception that has persisted ever since. But in this exciting, thoroughly researched volume a different view of Henry emerges: a multidimensional ruler of great piety, a hands-on governor who introduced a radically new conception of England’s European role in secular and ecclesiastical affairs, a composer of music, an art patron, and a dutiful king who fully appreciated his obligations toward those he ruled.

Historian Malcolm Vale draws on extensive primary archival evidence that includes many documents annotated or endorsed in Henry’s own hand. Focusing on a series of themes—the interaction between king and church, the rise of the English language as a medium of government and politics, the role of ceremony in Henry’s kingship, and more—Vale revises understandings of Henry V and his conduct of the everyday affairs of England, Normandy, and the kingdom of France.

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Fiction

the schooldays of jesusCourtesy of NetGalley. I was really quite underwhelmed by Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus, describing it as a hollow egg, with a thick shell of heavy symbolism but containing little profundity. But oddly, I couldn’t resist this new one – a follow-up. Perhaps it will fill in some of the blanks left by the last one. Perhaps. We’ll see…

The Blurb says: When you travel across the ocean on a boat, all your memories are washed away and you start a completely new life. That is how it is. There is no before. There is no history. The boat docks at the harbour and we climb down the gangplank and we are plunged into the here and now. Time begins.

Davíd is the small boy who is always asking questions. Simón and Inés take care of him in their new town Estrella. He is learning the language; he has begun to make friends. He has the big dog Bolívar to watch over him. But he’ll be seven soon and he should be at school. And so, Davíd is enrolled in the Academy of Dance. It’s here, in his new golden dancing slippers, that he learns how to call down the numbers from the sky. But it’s here too that he will make troubling discoveries about what grown-ups are capable of.

In this mesmerising allegorical tale, Coetzee deftly grapples with the big questions of growing up, of what it means to be a parent, the constant battle between intellect and emotion, and how we choose to live our lives.

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Crime

the methods of sergeant cluffCourtesy of the British Library via MidasPR. I loved the recent reissue of Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm, so am delighted to have got my hands on this one. A more modern crime classic than many of the BL series, set in Yorkshire in the ’60s, the book is again introduced by the criminally expert Martin Edwards… 

The Blurb says: It is a wet and windy night in the town of Gunnarshaw, on the edge of the Yorkshire moors. The body of young Jane Trundle, assistant in the chemist’s shop, is discovered lying face down on the cobblestones. Sergeant Caleb Cluff is not a man of many words, and neither does he play by the rules. He may exasperate his superiors, but he has the loyal support of his constable and he is the only CID man in the division. The case is his. Life in Gunnarshaw is tough, with its people caught up in a rigid network of social conventions. But as Cluff’s investigation deepens, Gunnarshaw’s veneer of hard-working respectability starts to crumble. Sparse, tense, and moodily evoking the unforgiving landscape, this classic crime novel keeps the reader guessing to the end.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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Other news…

Exciting news about forthcoming books from bloggie friends! How am I ever supposed to get control of my TBR when I’m subjected to constant temptation???

First Lady of the KeysDue out 1st September 2016, from Lucy Brazier, better known as PorterGirl. This is a revised version of her earlier book, Secret Diary of PorterGirl. Lucy says…

“First Lady Of The Keys is a reworking of my debut novel, Secret Diary Of PorterGirl – so if you bought that one, you will probably feel a bit hard done by if you fork out for this one too. There are significant changes, however, and new characters (including a love interest for Deputy Head Porter) as this has been re-written to be the first in a series dedicated to the adventures of Old College. We even find out Deputy Head Porter’s actual name. Apparently characters have to have names. Pah.”

I did fork out for the first one, and thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the book has changed anyway. A love interest?!? Cor! Whatever will the Dean say??

The Blurb says: As one of the most ancient and esteemed establishments of the academic elite, Old College is in for something of a shock when it appoints its very first female Deputy Head Porter. She struggles to get to grips with this eccentric world, far removed from everyday life. PorterGirl, the proverbial square peg in the round hole, begins to wonder quite what she is doing here.

PorterGirl – First Lady Of The Keys is a touching, and at times laugh-out-loud funny, glimpse into a world that is usually reserved for the upper echelons of society. Whether she is chasing after naked students, drinking copious amounts of tea or getting embroiled in quaint, polite murders, Deputy Head Porter is never far from adventure.

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past tenseDue out 1st November 2016, from Margot Kinberg, who blogs at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist. This is the third novel in Margot’s Joel Williams series, but excitingly the first to be published on Kindle, making it much easier to get hold of for those of us on this side of the pond. A paper version will be available too, of course, for those who prefer it.

With its academic setting, and I’ve been promised that Joel Williams is neither an alcoholic nor an angst-ridden maverick with swearing issues, I’m very much looking forward to this one!

The Blurb says: A long-buried set of remains…a decades-old mystery

Past and present meet on the quiet campus of Tilton University when construction workers unearth a set of unidentified bones. For former police detective-turned-professor Joel Williams, it’s a typical Final Exams week – until a set of bones is discovered on a construction site. When the remains are linked to a missing person case from 1974, Williams and the Tilton, Pennsylvania police go back to the past. And they uncover some truths that have been kept hidden for a long time…

How much do people really need to know?

It’s 1974, and twenty-year-old Bryan Roades is swept up in the excitement of the decade. He’s a reporter for the Tilton University newspaper, The Real Story, and is determined to have a career as an investigative journalist, just like his idols, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. He plans to start with an exposé article about life on the campus of Tilton University. But does everything need to be exposed? And what are the consequences for people whose lives could be turned upside down if their stories are printed?  As it turns out, Bryan’s ambition carries a very high price. And someone is determined not to let the truth out.

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Now, if you could all please stop writing books for a while, my TBR and I would be most grateful!

 

Secret Diary of PorterGirl by Lucy Brazier

secret diary of portergirlMurder and mayhem at Old College…

😀 😀 😀 😀

When PorterGirl becomes the first female in 600 years to work as a porter in Old College, she’s expecting to face her share of old-fashioned prejudice and to have to learn all the quirky traditions of this venerable institution. But she soon finds there are dark secrets in the College’s history – secrets that even today some members of the Fellowship of the College are desperate to keep hidden. And, having an inquisitive nature and a background as a police officer, PorterGirl soon finds herself deeply embroiled in the shady goings-on that… er… go on behind these hallowed walls. As danger begins to dog her footsteps, it’s just as well there’s no shortage of tea and sausage sandwiches to keep her spirits up!

The Secret Diary of PorterGirl began life as a blog, and frequent visitors here will doubtless recognise PorterGirl as one of my delightfully witty regular commenters. I’ve been a follower and fan of Lucy’s blog for a long time now and was delighted to hear that she had compiled her blog stories into book form. Obviously, since we’re blog buddies and friends, you will have to assume some bias in this review, but I will try to be as honest as I can.

Lucy began her blog when, in real life, she left her job as a police officer and went to work at a college in one of our oldest and most prestigious Universities in the role of Deputy Head Porter. As with any ancient institution, the real ‘Old College’ is awash with traditions, some of them inspiring and others that seem a little more, shall we say, esoteric. Having always written for her own pleasure, Lucy began to blog about her experiences and, as the blog gained a following, gradually started to embellish the already strange truth of college life with some even stranger storylines of her own invention. The book is a compilation of the blog entries, though Lucy has made some changes to pull it together into a more structured form.

Maybe Old College looks something like this...
Maybe Old College looks something like this…

In the early chapters, the bloggy origins of the book show through as PorterGirl tells us about her first days in the new job, and introduces us to some of the characters who grow and develop as the book progresses. PorterGirl is one of life’s sunny enthusiasts with a keen observational eye for the humour in any situation and some of the set pieces are a delight. The inaugural meeting of the Committee for the Prevention of Drunken Behaviour, for example, held unfortunately on a day when PorterGirl is herself somewhat hungover, is comic joy as she listens with growing apprehension to the Fellowship’s plans for dealing with drunken students by having porters put them into the recovery position and attempt to ensure they remain conscious…

“What if the drunkard is a girl?” the Dean continues. “We can’t have our Porters wrestling drunk young ladies to the floor and forcing them to lie on their sides. Think of our reputation!”…

“I think” I say as politely as I can “that if the person is upright and able to physically fend us off they are not in need of urgent medical attention… I feel trying to force them onto the ground, male or female, will only inflame the situation.”

“That is one way of looking at it,” says Senior Tutor. “But I think it should be thought about. It would be easier to prod them repeatedly from the recovery position.”

As the plot begins to thicken, it takes on the tone of a somewhat spoofed Dan Brown story (though some might say Dan Brown’s books read like spoofs of Dan Brown books!), full of secret societies, mysterious symbols and ancient traditions. What stops it from becoming too much is the character of PorterGirl herself – level-headed and competent, she steers a path of relative sanity through the maze of strange happenings and odd behaviour of her increasingly caricatured characters. The humour stays strong throughout and as PorterGirl begins to develop affection for her colleagues, so does the reader. But there are also some quite touching scenes, such as PorterGirl’s burgeoning friendship with the elderly Professor K, and some well-written action scenes towards the end as PorterGirl gets close to the truth and begins to run into danger. These changes of tone add depth and contrast to the overall effect.

Lucy Brazier - with Deputy Head Porter's trademark bowler hat and wine!
Lucy Brazier – with Deputy Head Porter’s trademark bowler hat and wine!

Biased I may be, but I think this is a great début. The structure is a little unbalanced with the change from journal type early chapters on the role of the Deputy Head Porter to a full on mystery adventure in the second half, but this is due to the way the book originated and doesn’t detract from the overall enjoyment. Now that Lucy has established her characters and the world of Old College the possibilities are endless, and I look forward to seeing how her style develops in the future. Something to read when the world feels grey and a little laughter is required to brighten the day!

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link