Don’t judge a book by its cover…
After seeing the eye-catching cover and reading the engaging blurb of ‘Brighton Belle’ I thought that I had found a great novel. For somebody who wouldn’t class themselves as a big fan of historical fiction, the book seemed to me to be an exciting and fast-paced take on the genre. Set in post-war Brighton in 1951, with a strong female lead and an element of detection and mystery, the book promised so much but delivered so little.
The protagonist of the story is Mirabelle Bevan, a headstrong former member of the Secret Service now working as a secretary at a debt collection agency. Her character is driven and likeable, albeit with a slightly reserved and defensive edge. I thought that it was great that the main character was a strong and empowered woman and found the characterisation to be consistent up until the final chapter, which was the final nail in the coffin for me when it came to this book. After a client requests an investigation into the debt of a Hungarian woman named Romana Laszlo, Mirabelle is dragged into an unimaginable case of prostitution, murder, and mystery.
I was full of hope when I first started reading the novel as it appeared that the storyline was strong, and I was looking forward to seeing how the mystery unravelled. However, as the story progressed I started to guess the plot twists, and the tension was often immensely built-up, only to reveal something incredibly anti-climactic. As a reader I felt misled – you are led to believe that something shocking and unpredictable is about to happen. However, so many hints are dropped during the build-up that when a twist was revealed I was left feeling despondent and questioning ‘was that it?’
Despite this, there were a couple of moments that surprised me and that I thought were reasonably clever. Nonetheless, the book also suffers as a result of there being too many plotlines which have no real focus or direction, and amalgamate at the end of the book in a slapdash manner. We are never told how or why they happened, and as a result the conclusion is even more disappointing.
Another reason that I didn’t enjoy the book was that there were far too many characters that weren’t properly developed, and as a result were hard to keep track of. A character briefly introduced in a scene suddenly becomes a key element of the storyline several chapters later – I frequently had to turn back and remind myself of who was being spoken about. Mirabelle is joined in her investigations by her co-worker, Vesta Churchill, and a local priest, Father Sandor. Vesta’s race is touched on briefly, and I found it interesting to read how she was treated as a professional black woman in the 1950s. However, I feel that whilst it wasn’t a key element of the story it would have been great if it was touched on more; when its only exploration is a couple of comments in passing then it loses its significance and impact. Aside from the three protagonists, the antagonists of the book aren’t well developed and read like pantomime villains – unbelievable and difficult to take seriously.
In terms of the way that ‘Brighton Belle’ is written, it feels quite rough around the edges. The incorrect use of verbs combined with a frequently interchanging mix of first and third person narrative leads to an often questionable read. Also, the way in which the building of tension was written was quite sloppy, like an insane running commentary in somebody’s head. If written well then I think it would have worked, but unfortunately it felt quite amateur and the short sentences distracted and annoyed me. Overall the book felt more like a first draft that needed refining and polishing. ‘Brighton Belle’ certainly has it good points, but unfortunately they’re overshadowed by the bad ones.
Have you read ‘Brighton Belle’ by Sara Sheridan? If you have then we’d love to know – leave us a comment below!