Another review from Amy Hughes:
As Beatles literature goes, one can never fully appreciate the care and for want of a better word research, that goes into what is termed ‘fan fiction.’ All the more surprising that an entire full-length series with a strong, funny and multi-layered female lead can leave The Beatles in a secondary narrative!
Author Kal Smagh has done a fine job integrating a fact-based historical narrative, while weaving a mystery/alternate universe character through A Cozy Beatles Mystery Series (independently published, 2021). What I found most entertaining through this 4-volume series (including a short story) was the completely formed universe that we know, and love of The Beatles wrapped around a 60-year storyline that – to be honest – really encompasses the main character, the down-to-earth, disarmingly charming Helen Spencer.
What begins in 1962 Liverpool as Helen begins her journey with Freda Kelly and Brian Epstein, winds it way through the decades as we come to see her lifelong friendship (and employment) with the band expand worldwide. Smagh’s imaginative storytelling is actually told in flashbacks for the entire series – as an elderly Helen (retired and living in Florida) is recounting her experiences to a character we as readers are not quite sure is entirely forthright in their intentions!
As individual ‘stories,’ each holds its own: Helen’s crime-solving beginnings are told in ‘Larceny in Liverpool,’ and given a short nudge in ‘Punching Up,’ then gather steam in ‘Mayhem for Her Majesty,’ ‘The Beverly Hills Burglary’ and finally conclude in ‘The Beatle Car Bandits.’ Smagh has interwoven timely characters and locations pivotal to the band’s story, while taking liberties with their dialogue and interactions.
I can say I found Helen’s story fascinating as Smagh spends a great deal of time with her and her family – and that is a tentative warning for those of you out there that are hardcore fan-fic readers. His series really hangs on Helen and her sleuthing abilities and how certain real-life elements – from the Cavern Club to London to California to Oxford University – can be stretched to fit nearly the entire history of the band’s lifespan – and beyond.
What is also crucial is to the ability to suspend disbelief in certain situations, yet find Helen’s hilarious observations and determined mindset (which is key in linking this series together) believable in this Beatles AU. What I will say – and this is a little tough with no spoilers – is that the narrative is poignantly written and very sweet as Smagh brings us to the present day. I find that in this age of cynicism and social media bashing, the ability to convey a fictional character’s travails (sometimes not altogether perfect and with hints of self-doubt and a smattering of guts) with the real-life Beatles – without graphic blandishment or judgmental abandonment – is refreshing and to be honest, entertaining and readable.
I recommend getting all 4 books (including the short story) for the complete picture and then giving the series 4 out of 4 beetles!