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Tuesday 3 October 2023

‘Artful Antics at St Brides’ by Debbie Young

Published by Boldwood,
29 July 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-80483-137-3 (PB)

Artful Antics at St Bride's opens as English teacher Gemma Lamb returns from a half-term break to find that her flat has been damaged after a roof leak.  Gemma is not alone, the flooding has affected other parts of the school, a Grade I listed building which, whilst impressive, has required substantial repairs for some time.  The bursar is worried that not even the enrolment of a new student, Frieda Ehrlich, will alleviate this additional pressure on St Bride’s finances.  After some consideration, the bursar and Miss Harnett propose that the new term’s Essential Skills Challenge will focus on developing realistic business ideas that will raise sufficient money to replenish school funds. 

As the boarders embrace this task, mystery surrounds their new schoolmate and Gemma suspects that there is more to the pupil than meets the eye.  Why, for example, does Frieda tell Gemma that her mother is dead but avoid identifying her homeland?  Similarly, prior to her enrolment as a boarder at St Bride’s, Frieda lived with her father, Herr Ehrlich, and his employer, Sebastian Goldman-Coutts, in a dilapidated old house, aptly named Torrid Manor.  Why would a millionaire choose to live in such dire conditions?  And what of Herr Ehrlich, whose behaviour often contradicts his job description as Sebastian’s handyman and driver?  Gemma asks handsome Oliver Goldsmith to investigate on her behalf, but she is aware that this decision might jeopardise her nascent relationship with P.E. teacher Joe.

Whilst Gemma ponders these enigmas, the girls concentrate on their business ventures.  They come up with a variety of start-ups, some possible, some impossible, and many hilarious.  It is a suggestion by Frieda that the Sixth Form hold an art exhibition to sell their work that ultimately proves a hit with her schoolmates and teachers.  At last, it seems that the school may have a solution to earn enough money to restore the roof.  Meanwhile, more unsettling problems have come to light and Gemma steps up her attempts to discover the truth about the occupants of Torrid Manor.

This is the fourth book in the Gemma Lamb series, the first I have read, and it works perfectly as a stand-alone novel.  The story is witty throughout, and the main characters soon become familiar companions who lead the way through Debbie Young’s carefully crafted plot.  Romance and comedy sit comfortably alongside the mystifying trio of Frieda, Herr Ehrlich and Goldman-Coutts.  The result is a tale that is as gentle as it is intriguing with plenty of twists and turns.

Artful Antics at St Bride's is entertaining, engaging and highly recommended.
Reviewer: Dot Marshall-Gent

Debbie Young was born and raised in Sidcup, Kent. When she was 14, her family relocated to Germany for her father’s job. Debbie spent four years at Frankfurt International School, broadening her outlook as well as gaining the then brand new IB (International Baccalaureate). She returned to the UK to earn her BA (Hons) in English and Related Literature at the University of York, then lived and worked for a while in London and the West of England as a journalist and PR consultant.  In 1991 she moved to the Cotswolds. In 2002, she married a Scot named Gordon whom she met in Swindon – and not, as village rumour once had it, a Swede named Scottie.  In 2003, her daughter Laura was born.  Best Murder in Show was the first in her series featuring Sophie Sayers. There are now a further three books in this series.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

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