Review: Arsenic For Tea by Robin Stevens
If you missed my review of Murder Most Unladylike, the first book in the Murder Most Unladylike series, you can check out my thoughts here.
“Now, I’m going to say the pledge, and then at the end you have to say I do. Ready? Listen carefully.
Do you swear to be a good and clever member of the Detective Society, and to logically detect the crimes presented to you using all the cleverness you have, not placing reliance on grown-ups, especially the police?
Do you solemnly swear never to conceal a vital clue from your Detective Society President and Vice-President, and to do exactly what they say?
Do you promise never to mention this to another soul, living or dead, on pain of medieval tortures?
Excellent. Now we can tell you about the case.”
When Lady Hastings – Daisy’s mother – arranges a tea party for Daisy’s 14th birthday, no one guesses that it’s going to end in murder. Luckily the Wells and Wong Detective Society are on hand to investigate The Case of Mr Curtis, with help from their new assistants, Kitty and Beanie.
Because the murder takes place in Daisy’s family home, all of the people closest to her come under suspicion. The list of potential murderers is almost endless, and they all seem to have great motives. Lady Hastings was having an affair with Mr Curtis, so Daisy’s father had a great reason to want Mr Curtis dead. Or maybe the culprit was Daisy’s Aunt Saskia, a kleptomaniac who was overtly coveting Mr Curtis’s golden watch? What about shifty Uncle Felix, or Miss Alston, the governess who appeared seemingly out of thin air?
One thing’s for sure: the murderer is still in the house. A terrible storm causes the local area to flood, making it impossible for the culprit to escape… Or for Inspector Priestley to get to the Hastings’ home. After their close encounter with Miss Bell’s murderer in Murder Most Unladylike, Hazel is terrified that their detecting is going to get them into mortal danger.
Is investigating The Case of Mr Curtis really a good idea?
Arsenic For Tea is flawless.
I know I can’t just say that and end the review, but it’s true! I can’t remember the last time I was so wholly satisfied by a mystery novel. The eccentric and varied cast of characters, the rundown stately home setting, the pervasive paranoia… Those three aspects combine to make this novel terrifyingly thrilling and totally terrific.
Whereas Murder Most Unladylike had more parts to the investigation and the story was fragmented into bite-sized chunks, Arsenic For Tea moves at a breakneck speed, allowing the plot to develop smoothly. Kitty and Beanie’s involvement helps: they add an interesting dynamic to the investigation, pushing Daisy into action when she begins to falter at the prospect of investigating her family. I sincerely hope that they team up with Hazel and Daisy again at some point in the future. It’ll be interesting to see how the girls manage to keep their detecting a secret from their other roommate, Lavinia!
Once again, Hazel and Daisy didn’t avoid collaborating with Inspector Priestley when he arrived. The Wells and Wong Detective Society don’t rely on adults, but the police officers certainly rely on them! I really appreciated that aspect in the first novel, because it’s unrealistic for children to solve crimes and apprehend murderers without any official help: I’m glad it’s something that was featured again.
Arsenic For Tea feels like a homage to J.B. Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, which I studied at secondary school and really enjoyed. When Inspector Priestley popped up in Murder Most Unladylike I wondered if the character was supposed to be a reference to the famous mystery playwright, but with this plot focusing on a claustrophobic domestic drama it became quite unquestionable. Hopefully that means that the Murder Most Unladylike series will be popping up on school reading lists in the near future, because Robin Stevens deserves to be heralded as one of the greats.
If you’re interested in learning more about Arsenic For Tea, 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!
I’m enjoying this series so much that I’m already reading the third book, First Class Murder. My review will be up in the next couple of days (and I think I’m going to love it just as much as I loved Arsenic For Tea!)