Let's set out the headlines first. Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Vampire Menace by Olga Wojtas is thoroughly enjoyable, utterly bonkers and quite unlike anything you'll ever have read before. Actually, the last of those isn't quite true. Anyone who's read the author's Miss Blaine's Prefect and The Golden Samovar will have a pretty good idea of what to expect. It says a lot for Olga Wojtas's ability to entertain that we remember that earlier book very clearly despite the passage of two years: when many other sometimes excellent books we've read in the meantime are much more prone to have blurred together in the memory. You are not going to confuse a Miss Blaine's Prefect... book with anything else.
Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Vampire Menace brings number of usually very distinct genres crashing together to highly impressive effect. Historical fiction? Yes, definitely, as the setting is in a remote village in France in 1900. Crime fiction (or, perhaps more accurately, that sub-genre sometimes called cosy crime)? Yes, there's plenty here that isn't right, though finding out what and why is a lot of the fun. Science fiction? Yes, the central premise has a little of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine about it. Thriller? Yes, the protagonist put us in mind of a slightly ageing Modesty Blaise, albeit with a refined Morningside accent. And, last but certainly not least, humour? Yes, the story is played throughout with a keen eye for the ridiculous.
Fifty-something librarian 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 personally selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for an important mission in the tiny French village of Sans-Soleil, so named because it lies permanently in the shadow of surrounding mountains.
We follow Shona as she tries to work out what her mission is and why everyone is acting so strangely: and as she seeks to impress on those she meets that she is from Scotland and not, as they repeatedly assume, England. For such a remarkable polymath, Shona does have a major failing. This is her inability to see beyond her starting assumptions and recognise emerging realities that are blindingly obvious to everyone else. Her ability to grasp the wrong end of just about any stick on offer is an enduring theme throughout the book and a times exposes her to real danger and us to real amusement.
As she begins to understand her surroundings she tries to discover why so many people have recently been torn to death by wild animals and whether the local fear of vampires is justified or not. The plot is engaging and keeps you turning the page; and the conclusion is sufficiently satisfying to make your journey through the book thoroughly worthwhile. But in many respects it is the journey itself that is the reward. We highly recommend Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Vampire Menace.