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To the Devil: A Diva! by Paul Magrs.

Magrs is the author of the totally wonderful Brenda & Effie series of novels, gentle comic paranormal mysteries set around Whitby – Never the Bride is the first, and I gave it ten out of ten – but don’t take just my word for it – Juxtabook and Savidge Reads both adored it too.

After so loving Never the Bride, (which I read before I started my blog), I acquired some earlier books by Magrs, and inspired by Juxtabook’s recent review mentioned above, thought I’d retrieve one from the TBR pile . To the Devil – a Diva! (2004) also seemed to fit into my October horror and spooky reading plans – with a vampire on the front cover and a blurb line about Karla who “… at the age of ten, she sold her soul to the devil.”

Karla Sorenson used to be queen of the lesbian vampires in all the best low-budget schlock-horror films flaunting her big bazooms. Now she’s getting on a bit, and needs to make a comeback – a role in a late-night cult soap opera is on the cards.  It’s a raunchy soap called ‘Menswear’ that dares to go further than anything else on telly – but how will the current leading man Lance Randall take her.  No-one including Lance himself is sure whether he’s gay or not; but Karla knows he won’t be happy for there is history between them.  Once Karla arrives in Manchester all hell is let loose and life for Lance, and his new boyfriend Colin who is a barman at the club below his penthouse, will never be the same!

But that’s not where the book starts. It does begin in Manchester with two young girls, Sally and Katy who live in the same street and are evacuated to the Lake District together during WWII.  They stay with the same family who are kind but strange, and Sally, who is a sensible girl, runs away when there are hints of black magic in the air.  Katy however, whose mother drank and had lots of ‘Uncles’, joins in and the legendary Karla is created.

To be frank, this book was not what I expected after the gentleness of my previous Magrs read.  There was an awful lot of sex all over the place, and of all varieties for a start, and everyone was so highly strung and in your face all the time – like birds displaying their plumage, fighting to maintain their places in the TV pecking order. The oasis of calm was Colin’s Gran – but you know from the outset that she has hidden depths too, (a precursor to Brenda & Effie perhaps?). Poor Colin was little more than a pawn in a much bigger game.  For all his failings and confusion, you could feel some sympathy for confused heart-throb Lance too – in danger of being knocked off his pedestal, and trying to find some answers in his life.  There was a long digression into the story of a chap who is out to break up the covens, which seemed confusing and out of place; this really slowed up the middle of the book, which is otherwise firmly Madchester through and through after the opening. 

Not enough was made of Karla’s curse either – people tend to die or disappear around her – I felt that a bit more Dennis Wheatley and Hammer Horror wouldn’t have gone amiss, and I could have done with a bit less of the sex-obsessed clubbers. I freely admit I never watched the 1999 TV drama series ‘Queer as Folk’ which followed the lives of three gay men living in Manchester which would have provided me with one close cultural reference. But on a different tack, I have experienced the slight frisson of excitement of breakfasting in the same hotel as some major Coronation Street stars and I was a contestant on a Granada TV quizshow hosted by a younger Richard Madeley – these experiences gave me a teeny tiny insight into the nature of TV celebritystardom – the arrival of someone like Karla in town would really have put the cat among the pigeons!

You can see the seeds of Magrs’ later books in this one which made it interesting for me rather than out and out enjoyable – A dark contemporary comedy.  (6.5/10)

pub Allison & Busby, 2004.  286pp. I bought this book.

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To buy things mentioned from Amazon.co.uk click below:
To the Devil: A Diva!
Never the Bride (Brenda 1)Queer As Folk – Definitive Collector’s Edition [DVD] [1999]

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