Review: Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
‘Murders, unfortunately, always come with murderers attached.’
The Wells and Wong detective society have only investigated one mystery: The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie.
Or, at least, they had… Until Hazel Wong stumbles across the body of Miss Bell, the Science Mistress, in the Gym.
Hazel runs to find Daisy Wells, the President of Wells and Wong, but by the time they return the Gym is empty, nothing but a bloodstain marking the spot where Miss Bell had been moments before.
When Miss Bell is absent the next day it’s obvious that Hazel wasn’t seeing things, and the Wells and Wong detective agency have a deadly case on their hands.
Murder Most Unladylike has a quaint, old-fashioned feel. This is thanks to the setting, as the events of the novel unfold at Deepdean, a boarding school for girls, in 1934. There’s an adorable little glossary included at the end of the book explaining the definitions of terms you may be unfamiliar with (such as San or squashed fly biscuits), which reminds you that this is marketed as a book for children… But Murder Most Unladylike has universal appeal.
Whenever I read adult novels with mysteries, one of my first complaints is that I’m able to crack the case too early. For me to really enjoy a mystery novel, it needs to keep me guessing, and Robin Stevens makes it impossible to point your finger at the culprit until very close to the end of the novel. It amazes me that this is written for children because the twists and turns are very intricate, but they’re beautifully unravelled and explained. No one will be left confused or disappointed at the end of this story.
As well as focusing on the mystery, Murder Most Unladylike also tackles the issue of being an outsider. Hazel comes from Hong Kong, and because the novel is set in 1934 this makes her an oddity. People are afraid of her.
‘Usually, once they know me, English people simply pretend that I am not Oriental, and I simply do not remind them about it. But sometimes they slip, and little bits of nastiness that are usually hidden come sliding out of their mouths, which can be quite difficult to politely ignore.’
Hazel and Daisy become friends fairly quickly, but only after Hazel figures out that Daisy pretends to be less smart than she is to fit in. While that’s not a great lesson to teach young readers (and is the only reason I didn’t give this book five stars) it’s a very believable exchange. Unfortunately a lot of people do feel as though they need to hide their intelligence to be accepted.
Because their friendship has ups and downs, Hazel and Daisy’s friendship is realistic. I found myself desperate to be part of their gang! They’re both very strong-willed and independent, which causes friction when they disagree on the direction the investigation should take, but it’s great to see such vibrant characters being written for children.
It’s particularly brilliant that Deepdean is a school for girls: I can’t remember any books like this being around when I was younger, so all of the detective novels I devoured as a child were always male-led. The reason why the Murder Most Unladylike series is popular is obvious, and I’m disappointed in myself for waiting this long to pick up the first installment.
I started Arsenic For Tea this morning and I’m already almost halfway through it: expect a review of that book coming late in the week! If you haven’t started this series yet, don’t hesitate any longer or you’ll end up regretting that decision as much as I am.
If you’re interested in learning more about Murder Most Unladylike, check it out on Goodreads. If you decide to buy a copy, please consider using my Amazon Affiliate link: I’ll earn a few pennies from your purchase. Thank you!
Have you read any of Robin Stevens’ novels yet? If so, what did you think?