Title: Murder Most Unladylike
Author: Robin Stevens
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers
Publication date: June 5th 2014
Buy at: BookDepository
The first gripping, Agatha Christie-style mystery starring a brilliant new double act: feisty, funny schoolgirl detectives, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t, really.)
But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there’s more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.
Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?
Reading Murder Most Unladylike was a return to childhood. It felt like it had just been the day before that I had curled up on the sofa with my battered copy of Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner, reading it for the nth time that year. Just like I still remember the “man in the bowler hat” some ten, twelve, fourteen years later, I know I won’t so easily forget Daisy and Hazel.
These two girls attend the Deepdean School for Girls in England in the year of 1934, where they set up a secret detective club of which they are the only two members. But living in a school for upper class girls doesn’t offer much in the department of mysteries. Well, until Hazel stumbled upon the body of their science teacher, Miss Bell. Murder runs rampant at the school. The thought leaves Daisy giddy with joy, and Hazel scared to the bone. They put on their detective caps and try to solve the murder before either police or the school understands what’s going on.
This book is utterly delightful. The characters, especially the protagonists, are well rounded, easily distinguishable, and memorable to boot. Daisy is the perfect English girl. Blonde and doll-like, she charms everyone who sets their eyes on her, quickly harnessing a group of followers who unwittingly become rather handy when she needs a snoop. Hazel is her opposite. She is quieter, and far more cautious than her friend. Their friendship rings true from start to finish. It’s not perfect – Daisy, the clear leader, more often than not believes her thoughts to be the only ones worth considering, which can create quite the clash. However, it is a very honest one, the sort that I remember having and seeing all around me as a child.
As are the relationships, even the subplots, of the other characters in the books. I was never in an all girls school, but Stevens managed to make the corridors of Deepdean feel real, if not familiar. I could see the classrooms littered with students and teachers, and feel the atmosphere of the school through Hazel’s vivid descriptions.
As for the plot, it’s your usual whodunnit, but with twists and wit that keep the reader entertained and guessing until the very last page. The answers are far from obvious too, so I’d say it’s bound to get a lot of children, the intended audience, turning the page in a hurry to know what happened.
Another thing I must congratulate Stevens on is on how she included diversity in her novel. Namely, how Hazel Wong was born in Hong Kong, and the snippets in the book that hinted at homosexuality in the student body. Although the last was only briefly mentioned, the author discussed how Hazel faced racism in school, how she was treated differently at the start, bullied even, and how people would let slip racist comments even when they liked her. This was done in just the perfect amount for a Middle Grade book too. Not too dark, but not too light either.
Murder Most Unladylike is a wonderful book that is bound to hook its readers. It’s charming, it doesn’t turn a blind eye on “adult” subjects that children all over the world grow up with, it is not patronising, and is a whole lot of fun. This is definitely a series I will keep my eyes on.
The book in a quote
“‘The problem with this place,’ said Daisy, pausing in the stairwell to wriggle out of her old pyjama jacket and into her new one, ‘is that there are far too many secrets wherever you turn. And most of them are so pointless. It doesn’t make it easy for two detectives to do their jobs.'”