Although looking after my niece and 2 little nephews for one week of my holidays, I have also enjoyed time to read. My niece also loves reading, especially mystery stories. I recently gave her 3 books in a series by Robin Stevens. (Murder Most Unladylike series aka Wells & Wong Mysteries). She has read all three and loved them. She gave them to me to read and I have recently finished the first one, Murder most unladylike, and enjoyed it a lot. Below is my review for it
Murder Most Unladylike is a delightful read and it was very easy to suspend disbelief that school girls could investigate a murder, unfettered by any adult interventions in this very English boarding school crime setting.
The story is set in 1934 in a boarding school for girls called Deepdene. It combines the traditional detective novel, (think Sherlock Holmes) with a bit of the traditional girls-own boarding school drama. The story is narrated (Dr. Watson-style) by Hazel Wong, a student from Hong Kong, who, with best friend Daisy Wells (the self-cast Sherlock Holmes of the duo), make up a secret detective agency that in the past had only very mundane cases to investigate.
The adventure begins when Hazel finds the body of their Science Mistress, Miss Bell, in the gym. Hazel runs for help but when she returns with Daisy a few minutes later, the body has disappeared. The official from the School Headmistress is that Miss Bell is simply gone, resigned. The rumour is that it is due to a broken heart after a failed romance with the new music teacher, Mr Reid. Hazel and Daisy know better and set out to first prove that a murder actually happened and then find the culprit.
Whilst the skilfully plotted murder mystery in Murder Most Unladylike is the central thread there are also many other incidental elements that provide an interesting picture that encompasses not only the actual mystery but also the difficulties the two main characters have in maintainin their’ friendship as well as wider social mores of the time about gender, class and race.
Although she has been schooled by her father, who is clearly a fan of all things Anglophile, Hazel has had to learn to fit in and deal with the casual racism and small slights from her classmates. Also, given the historical context of the novel, the classes that are considered necessary, sort of good behaviour that is expected of the girls and how intelligent and smart they are allowed to be. Daisy and Hazel’s characters both play down their intelligence in class and deportment is a timetabled class.
This story has plenty of charm. It is funny and clever, and as with all good classic detective stories, the two heroines complement each other perfectly.
The author Robin Stevens has captured the feel of all of the classic mystery stories that I enjoyed when I was a child. It should have great appeal for many middle-school kids today. I spent 12 months in a boarding school and, although it was not English and 50 years later than the timeframe here, there is a ring of authenticity to the lives documented in the story. There is a language that goes with boarding schools and for this reason there is a glossary at the end that explains all the 1930s boarding school slang.