Disclaimer: I was given an advanced reader copy by the author as a gift and was not asked for a review. I decided I had to give it a review anyway!
The Prologue of Porter Girl describes the medieval founding of Old College, where the murder of a young scholar portends of evil to come. Then to the present, where Porter Girl is the first female Deputy Head Porter of the still existing Old College, a now ancient, academically elite institution. Her adventures begin on day one, as her appointment is greeted with curiosity, approbation and hostility by the various staff and academics inhabiting the rare and eccentric air of the school. As a former police officer, Porter Girl is well equipped to handle anything, but as she soon learns, Porters do not carry bags, they are the keepers of the keys and overseers of the students and all the college activities.
She soon comes to realize there is a profound chasm between the staff and the faculty, so deep that she occasionally wonders what she is doing there. However, with her background, cheerful good will and nose for intrigue, she soon bridges that gap.
The mystery begins when Porter Girl learns there were bodies buried many years previously under the foundations of the ‘new’ Porter’s Lodge. Old College clearly has had an ancient, notorious past, about which only a privileged few know, and Porter Girl is irresistibly drawn into finding out what that is. She decides to question the very old Professor K, a kindly and gentle soul who confirms what she heard and gives her a clue to where to go next. Before she can proceed, Professor K dies, apparently in his sleep, followed rather quickly by the immolation of Senior Bursar from the explosive fire from a new electric tea kettle.
The characters the author has drawn for her book are marvelous and nuanced: Porter, Head Porter, Senior Bursar, Junior Bursar, The Master, The Dean, The Professor, Head of Housekeeping, and little vignettes of each of them can be found on her blog. I particularly liked The Professor, an American who is partial to bright blue suits and fedoras; Senior Bursar, described by the author as a tall, powerful man, customarily swathed in tweeds, with a cut-glass accent and booming voice, and a penchant for biscuits and holding pre-drinks reception drinks reception (figure that one out if you can); and the Dean, a lofty academic with a penchant for wearing clashing colors.
I thought of Bridget Jones’ Diary as I began to read this book. Actually I’d been thinking of BJD for some time because I follow Lucy Brazier’s blog, The Secret Diary of Porter Girl, the Everyday Adventures of the Staff and Students of Old College. Her blog is hilarious, and I thought a full length book would be the same. I wasn’t disappointed.
The descriptions of antics of the Old College and its Fellows, its time-honored and sometimes senseless traditions, and the adventures of Porter Girl’s daily life – chasing after naked students, watching a ceremony on her knees behind a curtain, finding secret rooms and passages, mindlessly sorting keys, and the drinking of gallons of tea – at times made me laugh out loud. Balancing the humor are the author’s soaring, beautiful and detailed descriptions of Old College and its grounds, with each passing season. Clearly based on a real place, these made me want to visit… with Porter Girl as my guide.
I highly recommend Porter Girl: The Keeper of the Keys. The book goes on sale tomorrow, so get in line. One of the best books I’ve read this year!
About the author
Adapted from Amazon: Adventurer. Puzzle-solver. Expert tea-maker. Lucy Brazier started writing to entertain herself during childhood as the internet did not yet exist. Later on, she had a punt at writing to entertain other people and pulled it off rather well. Then she wrote a book – Secret Diary of Porter Girl: The Everyday Adventures of the Students and Staff of Old College – and now she’s written another.
From an interview with the author Dan Alatorre: Her books derive from the fact that on a whim, she applied for the role of Deputy Head Porter at one of the most prestigious Colleges of Cambridge University. She didn’t expect to get the job, but when it was offered, she thought it churlish to refuse and became the first female Deputy Head Porter in the College’s 600 year history. She believes she was absolutely the worst Deputy Head Porter the College had ever seen, and she hung up her bowler hat after a year. But her experiences inspired her blog and her first book and now further fictional adventures.
You can find Lucy Brazier
On twitter: @portergirl100