Blyton for Grown Ups: Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan

New to the blog, I thought it was worth looking at some of the authors that us grown-ups could try as a change to the numerous Enid Blyton books we read. I thought of this idea when I was up in Dundee with Fiona (she brings out the best ideas in me) and she said that it could work, so here it goes!

Brighton_Belle_Book_CoverWhy should I read something else?

I suppose this is your question, when you read the schedule and saw the title for the blog. However, all am I trying to do is create a blog where people of all ages can find some good recommended reads. My starter today is Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan. Sara Sheridan is a Scottish author, who is in the middle of writing  her Mirabelle Bevan mystery series, of which Brighton Belle is the debut. The book first crossed my hands in my library some years ago while I was at work and I knew I wanted to read it.

I took it home and was immediately transported to 1950s Brighton, England and I felt right at home. This was an England I had dreamt about in my childhood while I read, and re-read Enid Blyton’s books, and now I was getting to see it through grown-up eyes!

At the time I discovered this book, I was really absorbed in writing my story, The Missing Papers – A St Andrews Mystery (which you can find here) and I thought that this was the perfect book for research. It was perfect for me to immerse myself in writing the kind of story where you could almost watch in your head – like Blyton managed to create for so many people.

Another advantage of Brighton Belle is that it has short, manageable chapters. I remember once having people comment on the fact that they liked children’s books because the chapters were shorter and punchier. Not many adult books do this, though I think they are beginning to realise its advantage. Sara Sheridan does these amazing, short punchy chapters, that along with the detail, and the mystery not only in front of our heroine, but behind her as well, you just have to keep reading and devouring her writing.

Appetite whetting

Brighton Belle has a realistic, gritty, no nonsense approach to life, and the hard times that everyone was going through after the Second World War, make this novel so real it is hard to believe it is fiction. Sheridan is a self confessed swot, so her research is second to none. She will dig and dig and dig to get to the facts, and then she presents them perfectly. There are things I never knew about Britain after the Second World War such as the racial divide between people with different skin colours. In Blyton’s books this is sort of glossed over, with people of different ethnicity largely being the baddies. Sheridan in contrast actually points out the divide, and our heroine’s best friend and colleague is the gorgeous Vesta Churchill, who provides light relief and a fresh jolt of energy to Mirabelle, who has been floundering since the death of the love of her life.

Vesta encourages Mirabelle to act more like her wartime self, a former SOE agent, taking risks and following the line of enquiry as Mirabelle’s boss from the debt collecting firm she works for now, goes missing. The layer upon layer of mystery, surrounded by the picture of Brighton that Sheridan in such vivid colour that you walk the paths of Brighton with her. You have to be on the ball in a very Agatha Christie sense to find out who committed the murders before its revealed and it manages to roll in so many aspects of 1950s recovery that you cannot fault Sheridan’s knowledge and research at all.

I remember being at a talk by Sheridan a few years ago where she said the inspiration for Brighton Belle ,and Mirabelle, had come from: when her father had mentioned seeing a lady on a beach, dodging the deckchair attendant, so she didn’t have to pay the two pennies. Given that everyone back then was fighting their own demons from the war, this ‘simple’ story sparked off Sheridan’s creative flow and Mirabelle was born.

Final thoughts

Although Sara Sheridan is not a typical mainstream author, she is beginning to gain steam and publicity. She is a first rate storyteller who, much like Blyton for us, brings the whole ‘movie’ of the story to our minds with the use of her clever sentences and words. Mirabelle is such an easy character to love – I really wish she was my friend – that you want to find out if she finds happiness. Vesta adds a charm and warmth to the story while highlighting the racial issues. I haven’t spoken about him, but Detective Superintendent Alan McGregor provides the reassuring police presence that we so love to see in our mysteries by Blyton, that he reminds me of a ‘grown up’ Inspector Jenks, who tolerates Mirabelle’s help but wishes she wouldn’t get in harm’s way.

These Mirabelle Bevan mysteries have been described as worthy of Agatha Christie and I couldn’t agree more. You need to read these books, they are just the sort of read that you need when you want a little more depth and substance to a mystery, one that really makes your brain work, you need not look any further than Mirabelle Bevan, and Brighton Belle will confirm that!

Let me know what you think, if you’ve read the book before, and if you’ll be giving it a go – you won’t be disappointed!

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1 Response to Blyton for Grown Ups: Brighton Belle by Sara Sheridan

  1. Francis says:

    Like the sound of Brighton Belle, Stef. It is the name of an iconic train from London to Brighton.


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