Professor Bernice Summerfield
A Life in Pieces

Authors: Dave Stone, Paul Sutton and Joseph Lidster
Big Finish
RRP £14.99
ISBN 1 84435 108 4
Available 03 December 2004

Benny and Jason are on holiday, a suspiciously luxurious holiday that Jason has arranged. A holiday of sun, sea, sand... and intrusive reality-TV camera crews...

When I first heard that Professor Bernice Summerfield would be appearing in a sequence of novellas, I had envisaged a series of individual and rather slim volumes. Instead we have this 210-page collection of three linked novellas under one cover, which is certainly more economical for the paying customer.

The first story, Zardox Break by Dave Stone, is a decidedly light-hearted and frivolous affair. It isn't much of a story in its own right, but it's entertaining enough. The author makes lots of characteristically intellectual jokes on topics ranging from the commonly misconstrued meaning of the phrase "without price" to the four asterisks that occasionally appear at the foot of the page. He is even more explicit about his "people are stupid, apart from you of course, dear reader - you are clearly intelligent, since you are reading this book" attitude than usual.

Brax is on Earth, helping an old friend solve a political problem. Meanwhile, Adrian and Bev are on a secret mission, trying to operate subtly and undercover. Yeah, that'll work...

Overlapping the events of the previous story and the one to follow in terms of its timeline, The Purpura Pawn, by Paul Sutton, deals with some of the other regulars from the Summerfield series: Irving Braxiatel, Adrian Wall and Bev Tarrant. Bernice herself only "appears" on one page, while in communication with Brax. I thought for a moment that Benny's former fellow traveller Ace had also appeared, but the character in question turns out to be a ruthless assassin called Acél.

This is a more serious work than Stone's, dealing with subjects such as gambling debts, art theft and street violence, though there is the occasional comic moment, such as when Bev uses an A-Team-type ploy to get Adrian to board a flight to Earth. I found this story hard going for much of the time, and it is my least favourite segment of the collection, though it does contain a vivid depiction of a gambling addict's point of view.

And linking all of these little sojourns is the trial of Jason Kane. He is accused of murder and the theft of a legendary artefact called the Purpura Pawn...

By contrast, I found the final entry, Joseph Lidster's On Trial, the most enjoyable and rewarding of the bunch. This story within a story, in which a playwright with a mission looks back upon the events surrounding Jason's trial, which itself looks back upon the mysterious death of a crucial political figure, makes reading the first two stories all the more worthwhile. This is, on several levels, a search for the truth, which leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that the unbiased "truth" is either difficult or impossible to find.

Though the true culprit isn't spelled out to us, there are strong clues with sinister connections to the regular characters that we know and love, and links back to the audio drama Professor Bernice Summerfield and the Mirror Effect.

This tale also has its lighter moments, though: particularly when a barmaid proves to be something of a Vicky Pollard soundalike!

Thanks primarily to Lidster's contribution, this is a memorable collection.

Richard McGinlay

Buy this item online
We compare prices online so you get the cheapest deal! Click on the logo of the desired store below to purchase this item.

£10.49 (Amazon.co.uk)
£11.54 (Limebooks.co.uk)
£11.54 (Studentbookworld.com)

All prices correct at time of going to press.