When Saraband contacted me and asked me to be a part of the forthcoming blog tour for “Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar” I was slightly dubious as it was described as “cosy crime” and had a bit of a historical twang to it, not always my first choice in reading materials! However, it was a new year approaching and I always like to experiment a little each year by taking myself out of my comfort zone a little, so I agreed to take part.
Thank you to Saraband Books for the ARC to review:
Before I tell you my thoughts, here’s what the blurb says:
Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, the debut novel by Olga Wojtas published on 25 January 2018, is an affectionate homage to Muriel Spark’s most famous book.
The star of this idiosyncratic and “cosy crime” novel is the ebullient Shona McMonagle, a time-travelling altruist who must solve a mystery in 19th-century Russia.
Fifty-something Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls but has a deep loathing for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name.
Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th-century Moscow: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins.
But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?
Once I got my head around the time travelling and the Russian names I started to settle into the novel. Protagonist Shona McMonagle has been tasked with a mission to play cupid to the terribly shy and anxious Russian Heiress, Lidia Ivanovna with a man called Sasha, the darling of the socialites but one whose background is steeped in mystery.
Marcia Blaine, head of Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls, has tasked Shona with her time travel mission after satisfying herself that she is indeed “la creme de la creme” when she demonstrates her disdain for the book, “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” which was loosely based on Marcia Blaine’s School for Girls. Shona, a librarian is determined that she will not be complicit in encouraging others to read the book she feels mocks her old school and routinely hides every copy that comes into the library.
My two favourite characters in the novel were Shona, her straight-talking 21st Century Scottishness in 19th Century Russia was refreshingly funny and her observations of life around her had me laughing out loud. The other character was Lidia’s “knitting nanny” – I don’t want to say any more about her but she had me howling! I’m not sure this is meant to be a comedy but it certainly evoked a good few giggles from me!
I found myself laughing at Shona’s modern-day approach to 19th Century Russian life! When she approaches the orchestra at Lidia’s ball to liven things up a little by giving some impromptu Scottish dancing lessons, complete with her Doc Marten’s under her ball gown while an elderly man almost suffocates in the cleavage of one of the attendees, it was impossible not to laugh a little!
Historical references pepper the novel as Shona strives to work out exactly what year she has arrived in. With just one week to achieve her mission, she’s going to have to put all her skills learned at Miss Blaine’s into practice and fast! Will she pass the test? Will she survive and will anyone ever actually wonder what the hell she is talking about when she adds her own unique blend of narrative to the mix.
A mix of 19th Century Russia with a modern-day twist and a body count which rises by the chapter, Miss Blaine’s Prefect is a cosy crime with a huge kick of humour.This, as I said, would not be my usual choice of book, however, it is fair to say that a step out of my comfort zone worked well, intriguing, unique, intelligent and I have to say downright comedy gold at times, this one was a winner for me!
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Miss Blaine’s Prefect is available to purchase from: