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Recent review

‘Stranger at St Bride’s’ by Debbie Young

Published by Hawkesbury Press,
24 June 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-911223-59-7(PB)

Stranger at St BridesSince taking a post as a teacher at St Bride’s school, Gemma Lamb is happier than she has been for years. Until recently, Gemma was in a relationship with a cruel and controlling man, who had limited her career, destroyed her self-esteem and caused her estrangement from her parents and friends. Now, thanks to the supportive and nurturing ambience of a very unusual school, Gemma is regaining her confidence and learning to trust people again, which means that she is capable of renewing old relationships and developing new ones, especially with the attractive sports teacher, Joe Spryke. St Brides is remarkable in many ways. It is a private school for girls, some of whom are extremely wealthy and well-born, while others are less affluent and whose parents are paying reduced fees: the common factor is that the majority of them have been bereaved of at least one parent. The headmistress, Miss Harnett, has gathered a staff of warm-hearted, eccentric and talented teachers, most of whom have secrets of their own. The beautiful house in which the school is situated was the bequest of Victorian philanthropist, Lord Bunting, who had written a will that stipulated that, if he died without issue, the house should be used for a school for girls.

The peace of St Brides is shattered when a man turns up who bears a remarkable resemblance to the portrait of Lord Bunting that hangs in the entrance hall. The man is wearing clothes very similar to that of the portrait and claims that he is the illegitimate descendant of Lord Bunting. Lord Bunting was a life peer and his title was not hereditary, but the new man announces that his name is Earl Bunting. He has a pronounced American accent and claims to have spent his life in America, explaining that he only just discovered about his illustrious ancestor. Earl Bunting claims that the house and estate belong to him, he has paperwork to back this up and the headmistress and school governors have to accept this.

Earl Bunting proves to be arrogant, rude and avaricious. He moves into the house and evicts the Headmistress from her suite of rooms and the Bursar from his study, he insults and shouts at children and staff, and demands that the school authorities give him money that they need for school equipment; despite the money they provide, he runs up large debts in the local village pub. The staff know that it is only a matter of time before the school is evicted from its home. The younger girls play pranks upon him, and so does McPhee, the school cat, but it is clear that it will take more than childish mischief to drive Earl Bunting away. It is up to Gemma and the rest of the St Brides’ staff to discover a way to defeat Earl Bunting and save their school.

Stranger at St Brides is the second in the author’s series of ‘school stories for grown-ups’ and it embodies many of the easy-to-read, amusing and gentle adventures that are typical of the traditional school stories for girls. It also possesses that magical ingredient that urges the reader to read on in hopeful anticipation that the villain will get his just deserts. The story is set in the Cotswolds, near to the fictional village of Wendlebury Barrow that is the setting for the author’s other series, featuring Sophie Sayers. For those who know both series, this crossover adds to the fun by showing familiar characters from a different perspective.

Stranger at St Brides is an enjoyable read with eccentric but engaging characters, an amusing, quirky plot and an attractive setting. It is great fun and recommended for those who enjoy a lively cosy crime with a strong sense of community.

Reviewer: Carol Westron

Signed first editions available from Goldboro Books