Friday 25 July 2014

MG REVIEW: 'Murder Most Unladylike' - Robin Stevens (Corgi, 2014)

Deepdean School for Girls, 1934. When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency, 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? (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Murder Most Unladylike (Wells and Wong, #1)Although this book is set in 1934, I'm not going to put it in my Past on Paper feature because it just feels all wrong calling it historical fiction. Even though it's historical and a work of fiction.Yes, the voice very much depends on this particular time period but (and there's massive clue in the title here) this is very much in the realms of the mysterious for me. It pays homage to both Agatha Christie and her ilk as well as classic boarding school stories but somehow manages to be something else entirely.

First admission: the crime element wasn't the page-turner I thought it was going to be. Maybe it was the 'school girl investigators' angle because this subsequently put a bit of distance between the main characters and the other players or just that the plot didn't unfold quickly enough for me. Not really sure, but the book made up for it in other ways...

The cover design and synopsis gave the impression of something light-hearted - apart from that whole murder thing - and even though the tone was upbeat, it surprised me with an underlying darkness, not to do with the murder (maybe partly to do with the murder *resists urges to say MURDER in Taggart-like fashion*) but with the relationship between Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells, our two detectives. Hazel is the put-upon 'secretary' of their secret society who records everything in her casebook and describes the frustration and occasional upset the actions of her best friend cause. Daisy is definitely manipulative, possibly slightly sociopathic (can someone be slightly sociopathic?) but never boring. What kept me turning the pages was their 'friendship' - a very realistic depiction of how one personality can dominate another and it gave the book another dimension.

A good voice can make a book and here it never falters. Hazel is a very sympathetic character and the combination of her keen observation and naivety make her a great storyteller - I would have loved to hear more about her life in Hong Kong but hopefully this might be developed further on in the series. And even though this is Hazel's story, I hope Daisy and her background get featured in future adventures, especially after that little taster at the end...

Despite being the tiniest bit disappointed in the actual crime (although I applaud the clever resolution), this was a surprising mystery in more ways than you might think...

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