It’s the last week of summer holidays, and Kate Webster is terribly frustrated with her mother. Their house is a mess, and her mother tells her to go outside and have fun, instead of staying in and cleaning. What a waste of time.
On her trip out, Kate meets the curious Curator and his grey cat, who live in a mysterious shed. And Armand, the boy next door, who is shunned in the village because everybody believe that his father the pharmacist accidentally killed people. And she buys a painting of the harbour, and the lighthouse, and two people holding a key and a ring. An oddly damp painting, called The Lord of Winter.
One day Kate wakes up to find snow covering the village, and no one to be seen, including her mother. Searching, she finds the Curator’s grey cat, who tells her that the Lord of Winter is coming. Kate reasonably concludes that this must be a dream, since cats can’t talk. It’s not a dream.
Then Kate finds Armand, and a boy named Milo, and together with the cat and the Curator they must find the ring and the key and stop the fall of summer, or the Lord of Winter will rule the frozen land forever…
Much like the Richard Castle books, this e-novella began as a fictional book in a television show, the Doctor Who episode “The Bells of St. John.” Summer Falls is a book being read by Artie, the charge of Clara, the new companion to the Doctor in her (third) introductory episode (it’s complicated). It was supposedly written by Amelia Williams, the former Amy Pond and the Doctor’s previous companion. The book is not an important plot point, mainly there for the connection to the recently-departed Amy and the joke about how [chapter] “eleven will make you cry.” However, like the preceding book The Angel’s Kiss: A Melody Malone Mystery appearing in the episode “The Angels Take Manhattan”, Summer Falls was later published for real as an ebook. It has recently also been published in a print omnibus as Summer Falls and Other Stories, which also contains The Angel’s Kiss and Devil in the Smoke: An Adventure for the Great Detective, featuring Madame Vastra and Jenny. These tie-in stories are clever–while Doctor Who has published a few hundred novelizations and original stories, which have been hugely popular and especially during the years when it was off the air, this is the first time that they have directly appeared on the show. They’re an excellent introduction to the novels for the new New Who fans.
Like the Richard Castle books, it claims a fictional author, and the title page claims that the first printing was in 1954. However, the copyright page does list James Goss as the actual writer, along with the correct publication date of 2013, so it doesn’t go as far as the Richard Castle books in keeping the idea going.
The book can easily be read on its own, without being familiar at all with Doctor Who. However, there are quite a few subtle references for the fan to pick out and chortle over, such as the mysterious Curator with his odd shed and his talking cat. There are lines about how there are no phones in cars, not even in London, and a reminder for the Curator to turn his parking brake off, and how the Curator loves a little shoppe, that will amuse the fan as in-jokes. It’s an entertaining story that includes the usual children’s adventure story tropes: children having to save the village and the adults, dealing with betrayal by a friend, courage in the face of danger, solving a long-lost mystery, the power of friendship, the pain of loss, the quest for the missing objects, the moral weakness that causes people to become villains, etc. It doesn’t add significantly to the Doctor Who fandom, but it’s a fun, quick read.
‘Hello,’ he said. ‘What brings you to my lawn?’
‘Well,’ Kate’s mother had taught her to be unapologetic, ‘your cat was trespassing in my garden. I am returning the favour.’
‘That’s a fair point,’ admitted the man, helping her up. ‘Although it’s not really my cat. Cats don’t belong to anybody.’
Kate studied the man. He was tall, thin and friendly. She caught herself hoping he taught at her new school. If he did, she decided, she’d like school a bit more. ‘I’m Kate Webster,’ she said. ‘How do you do?’
The man laughed and bowed. ‘Then you are welcome to my grass, Kate Webster.’ The cat weaved around their legs. The man bent down to scratch its ears. ‘I say, Kate Webster,’ he offered. ‘Do your ears want scratching, too?’
Kate shook her head. ‘Who are you?’ she giggled.
To her surprise the man shrugged. ‘Not anyone, really. I’m just looking after the museum for a friend. I guess you could call me the Curator. How does that sound?’ He looked at her eagerly.
‘Not very good,’ admitted Kate. ‘Don’t you have a name?’
‘Can you do that?’ asked Kate.
‘I’m seeing how it works out,’ admitted the Curator. ‘Do you really think I need one? What do I look like? A Montmorency or a Keith?’
‘How about Barnabas?’ suggested Kate. It was the name of her teddy bear, and she thought more things should be called Barnabas.
‘Barnabas!’ The Curator seemed delighted. ‘Never tried that one. Let’s give it a whirl. Tea?’
He led her down the side of the house (which seemed very nice, if a little boarded up) to the back, where some garden furniture was arranged around a large, striped canvas tent. The man vanished inside it, coming out with a tray heaped with cups, plates, scones and ginger pop. He rested it gently on the paving by the cat, which was cleaning itself.
‘Why do you keep your kettle in your tent?’ she asked.
‘Oh, that’s not a tent.’ Barnabas had adopted the air of a man with a great secret. ‘Inside there is my shed. It’s undergoing repairs.’
That seemed an odd thing to say, but Kate’s grandfather was very protective of his shed. Perhaps Barnabas was the same.
The cat looked at Barnabas wearily, and then sniffed the milk jug.
Tea went rather well. Barnabas listened to Kate’s plan to Do Things before the end of the holiday and sagely suggested she draw up a timetable. He said that, if nothing else, it would take a while to do. ‘Failing that,’ he said, ‘you could pop into my museum.’ He caught the look on her face. ‘It’s really very nice. Though not on Wednesdays. I close it and spend the day going up and down on the steam train. I like trains.’
Kate wasn’t entirely convinced.
‘Don’t you like it here?’ The Curator sniffed. ‘How odd. The 1950s aren’t that bad, and this is a charming town. The kind of place you want to settle down and open a little shop with an e. I love a little shoppe. Have another scone.’