This is the third outing for the dynamic duo of old biddies, Brenda and Effie, where they battle the supernatural in Whitby, and then go for a nice cup of tea and a slice of walnut cake in the local cafe. This time around the supernatural menace is something much closer to home and a lot more personal for Brenda. Book 2 ended on a bit of a cliffhanger when Brenda received a note from her betrothed, the person for who she was originally created in the literal sense. Her Frank is coming back and he wants them to be together forever and won't take no for an answer. But Brenda is a modern woman and after many years of moving from place to place she has finally found a place she can call home. She doesn’t want to move on but she doesn’t think he is just going to go away because she asks him nicely.
As if that wasn't enough to worry about the town seems to be turning against Brenda and other locals because of a new late night radio show run by the creepy Mr Danby. Gossip and rumours are abound and the ever glitzy and sparkly Christmas Hotel and its humongous evil owner, Mrs Claus, seems to be the nexus of all the goings on. A convention of retired and wrinkly superheroes in costume with rubbish powers adds even more fuel to the fire and by this point I was just waiting for someone to strike a match. The result was very colourful as anticipated, but the story went in a very different direction to the one I expected which was a good thing, as I don’t like it when I can predict what will happen next.
This novel was different to the previous two books in a number of ways. Firstly the novel is more traditional in that it is set around one story, whereas the previous books were split into different sections or connected novellas and each had its own mystery. That isn’t a complaint at all as there is a lot of to sink your teeth into with this book and I’ve been waiting for Frank to turn up at some point ever since I found out who Brenda really is.
The story is also more fantastical than the others. It dips into it and then just throws the characters into it head first. The supernatural and bizarre has always been present and quite often its written as quite tongue in cheek. Brenda and Effie both have a certain amount of experience with it, but they’re also quite dismissive. They have a duty, but they don’t like any shenanigans spoiling the peace and quiet of their lives and their schedules. They want to deal with it as quickly and quietly as possible, without attracting undue attention to themselves, so life can go back to normal again.
Whereas the previous books were dotted with nice Easter Eggs from literature and history, Conjugal Rites leans more heavily on what has been set up before in the series. There are still a few little nods here and there, but it felt to me like a very different sort of book. I think this story was one that had to happen at some point, and without spoiling anything, I’m glad to say I didn’t see the end coming. This isn’t the last book in the series but it’s clear from this point forward the foundations of the series have shifted a bit. Effie previously had a man-friend and that nearly ended in disaster and it upset her friendship with Brenda for a time. This time it’s Brenda’s turn to rock the boat and I have a feeling both of their beaus will end up coming between them.
Overall this was a funny, dark, silly, giddy and laugh out loud book. It’s incredibly rare that I ever laugh out loud while reading, but Paul Magrs does it at least once every book in this series. A wonderful, light hearted and very enjoyable read.