Title: Hell’s Bells
Author: Paul Magrs
Genre: Comedic Gothic Urban Fantasy
Standalone/Series: Series Book 4 of the Effie & Brenda Mysteries
Release: Out Now in Hardback/Trade Paperback
Publisher: headline review
Whitby attracts some very interesting characters some make it their homes and some stay in one of the many hotels. For Effie and Brenda it is their home. For some like Penny they turn up, find their place and don’t leave. And some turn up and bring trouble with them, which is what happens when a cult movie star, remaking Get Thee Inside Me, Satan, arrives at the Christmas Hotel.
If you haven’t read the other three books in the series don’t worry you can read Hell’s Belles as a jumping on point. Though as with most series if you can start with Never the Bride do as there is a background history that enhances quite a few little moments in Hell’s Belles, partly as Magrs has a great sense of continuity and partly because Magrs likes the characters to face consequences to their actions.
If you’ve read the series so far or just curious and want to start here Hell’s Belles is a strong edition to the Effie & Brenda Mysteries. This time though Magrs shakes up the status quo by introducing Penny, the new receptionist at the hotel that Robert runs. As Robert is getting more and more involved in Brenda and Effie’s adventures Penny gets dragging along with this one.
What’s special about Brenda and Effie is that on the outside they are two near retirement old ladies in a seaside town passing the time and should be having a quiet life in the process.
But they don’t and it can only be down to their pasts. Brenda’s being bit more mysterious than Effie’s considering that until now Brenda hasn’t been able to settle. Though if you were being chased by a husband called Frank and didn’t seem to age (think about it) you’d have trouble settling too.
Brenda was at first filming of Get Thee Inside Me, Satan and things didn’t go well then, you could even describe the feeling as cursed.
I was a bit reluctant at the introduction of Penny into the little trio but I needn’t have worried. Penny provides an outside skeptical perspective to events and a challenge to Robert’s easy acceptance. She’s also a good partner, in the detective sense, to Robert. Not that they upstage Effie and Brenda they just add something extra and allow Magrs to come at things from different angle.
There is a lot going on with the mythology in Hell’s Belles. The actress is staying in the the Christmas Hotel with Mrs Clause but they aren’t as close as you’d expect. Mrs Clause does get close to someone and through their connection we get to see a completely different side to her.
And that’s the thing about Magrs’ writing when you look closer and see the world from each of the characters perspectives they aren’t really evil or good they are just trying to do the best they can, mostly. Though I must admit to seeing some things you can describe as pure evil going on here.
Magrs’ is very clever at connecting things together without you noticing and has a fabulous and twisted imagination. It’s an enjoyable read for all the little things he puts in place that are unexpected and enjoyable.
There isn’t anything extreme here – it’s gentle and comforting reading. Though that doesn’t make it safe. There are lots of dangers to Effie and Brenda both physically and personally.
And it’s the personal where Magrs’ excels. I feel like I’ve seen inside each of the main and most of the minor characters. That has to down to the strength of characterisation through his writing.
There are little asides that don’t seem to quite lead places. And plenty of places that could be nice little points to explore more but that’s more from the fact that Magrs’ has made Whitby and interesting place.
Again Magrs manages to captivate and play with his own conventions. This is a series that continues to have plenty of ideas pored into it though he doesn’t just drop characters or ideas after they’ve been introduced by resetting events after each book. Everything has a consequence. And they underlie the story that takes place here.
I’ve failed in this review to mention the impact on the cast of the actress’s arrival to Whibty. It’s safe to say she causes quite a stir as she films on the streets which leads up to her climactic big scene.
As soon as I finished it I needed to know what happens next. I’ve been lucky so far as I’ve read the last two really close to this one. Now I’m going to have to wait.
I hope you get the same feeling at at end.