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! 😀