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The hundred and ninety-nine steps trailed into darkness below as the fog swirled about her ankles and concealed the streets of Whitby. She might have been standing on the roof of the world, for all she could see. A shudder ran down her spine and she glanced back nervously. 

Aufwader’s Thought’s: This chapter’s title made me snort with laughter. ‘Cream Cakes and Death’! What a perfect opener, though, as our Brenda and Effie mystery gets underway.

There are echoes of Piccadilly and Oswald in Morgan’s lair in The Dark Portal here. At first, things seem all right, if a little suspicious. Miss Boston’s instincts are telling her loudly that there is something shifty about the new and intriguing Mrs Cooper, but as she cannot quite place what it is even when she finds herself in Rowena’s living room, she is frustrated in her investigations.

I love that scene. I love Mrs Cooper’s alarmingly immaculate house – I can practically feel the deep pile carpets and smell the overpowering bouquets she no doubt displays in ugly vases at the perfect height for knocking over. My imagination is offended by the thought of all that nineties decor in a confined space, and Mrs Cooper herself is even more offensive. I love Miss Boston sitting uncomfortably on an overly plush and vaguely hideous sofa, eyes alight for treachery, cup of lukewarm tea in hand. I love Mrs Banbury-Scott, a sit-com caricature, and the rest of the Ladies’ Circle either enduring through gritted teeth or lost in their own world.

Finally, I love the payoff in the second half of this chapter. It’s proper murder mystery stuff; the villain is revealed at last, but, oh no! The only one who guessed the truth has been brutally silenced on a dark and misty night! The plot thickens, dear Readers, but Miss Boston, Whitby Witch, is on the case.

 

Matt’s Thoughts: Not just nineties decor, but nineties old-lady decor. I remember my grandparent’s place back in the nineties, and it was all doilies, old dusty sitting rooms that were never used, and an out-of-tune upright piano.

I just like the juggle of tone here. So we’ve got a whole bunch of tragic stuff going on with the aufwaders, all of which gets put on hold for a chapter as we have one of the classic British TV tropes – the keeping up appearances cup-of-tea. Opinionated spinsters that drink cups of tea are just awesome as characters. (It’s not really a great surprise that Alice Boston is modeled after Margaret Rutherford who played Miss Marple.) But I’m struggling to think if there have been any popular stories in recent memories that featured these kinds of characters.

Has the old English tea-drinking lady disappeared from our world of stories?

Anyway, we don’t get to have too much time to enjoy the comedy, because everything has to advance the plot in a Jarvis book. So we’re straight on to the finale of the chapter, the kind of sequence that also has immediate echoes of The Hound of the Baskervilles. In other words, another wholly British story phenomenon, re-packaged brilliantly. (I was going to say re-packaged for the modern day, but those glorious old days where you didn’t have a mobile phone or the internet and you had to physically go and see people do make this original Whitby trilogy somewhat of a nostalgia piece for me.)

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