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Girl reader

REVIEW: Murder Most Unladylike

Murder Most Unladylike: Robin Stevens Corgi 2014

Before Daisy Wells and narrator Hazel Wong have had a change to get bored of their secret Detective Society at Deepdean School, its secretary, Hazel is writing up a real case in her case book. It’s an unpleasant job at times, for it began when she discovered a dead body in the school Gym.

The reader will already have picked up on the fact that Deapdean is not quite like the schools in the Angela Brazil books that Hazel owns, although it’s a generic staple that boarding schools aren’t like storybook boarding schools. There’s a midnight feast and there are pashes, but there’s also talk of ‘cannodling’ between older girls and between mistresses. The reader isn’t reaching for adjectives like ‘jolly’ and ‘wholesome’ to describe the school, not when there’s reference to a girl who committed suicide within the memory of some of the pupils at school, while the new Art and Music Master sounds like a fox in a henhouse.

The idea of setting a murder mystery in a boarding school is a ripping one, for it’s a closed world with a strict sense of order. The girls’ lives are dictated by bells, running in the corridor is an offence, while certain things must be hidden from Matron (tuck and detective novels) and any sign of intelligence must be hidden from mistresses and fellow pupils. Daisy is not what she seems and Hazel is intelligent enough to have divined that. The two friends are well aware of their place in the order of things at Deapdean, as third formers, they’re superior to the ‘shrimps’ but not the big girls (aka prefects).

Hazel is very sympathetic. The daughter on an Anglophile Hong Kong businessman, she isn’t like the other girls. Stevens handles the racism and culture clash deftly as we discover how Hazel learned to fit in as much as she could. Meanwhile Daisy (Sherlock to Hazel’s Watson, essentially) fits in more, but under the front of a heedless, ordinary but popular schoolgirl, the probably more brilliant girl is driven by a need to know everything she can about her school. For her, the mystery of who killed Miss Bell, the science mistress, and then hid her body is a puzzle she/they must solve. The more imaginative Hazel, who actually discovered the corpse, is less callous.

You’re rooting for these young amateur detectives as they try to uncover what really happened, sorting through the gossip running through the school, and trying to get over the difficult hurdle of never before thinking of mistresses and masters as himan beings. Their friendship is tested as their list of suspects goes through many revisions, another body is discovered and Daisy has to compete with the police

There’s a strong comic vein to this, as the schoolgirl POV is rigorously adhered to, but the reader can fill in some gaps that she, with youthful ignorance and prejudice can’t. Stevens clearly knows both genres thoroughly and assumes the reader does too – there’s the inviting wink of Daisy and Hazel’s reading material, while I was amused that the Inspector (who reminded me slightly of Heyer’s Hemingway with his love of theatrics) is named Priestly. I could go on about the nomenclature, but I’ll spare you.

Anyway, this is a satisfying read for older fans of both genres (girls own and historical mysteries). I wonder if there’ll be further books, because at one point it seems like the author went for a scorched earth policy and Deepdean is only slightly less dangerous than St Trinian’s. However, meeting Daisy’s mother explains a lot, and we deserve another mystery so that we can meet Daisy’s much mentioned uncle, at least.

Thanks to callmemadam for drawing my attention to this book!

This entry was originally posted at http://feather-ghyll.dreamwidth.org/106915.html. Please comment wherever you prefer to.

Comments

Great review!

I'm so glad you enjoyed it after I recommended it. This is what makes blogging worthwhile.
Thank you! The process of reviewing it really helped me hone in on certain aspects of the book.

This is what makes blogging worthwhile. Isn't it, though? I love the enthusiasm and how it helps me to come across things I wouldn't have known about otherwise.
I loved it too! :)

There are two more in the pipeline - the second one is out next year and is a country house murder mystery (set at Daisy's home). The third is being written and takes place on the Orient Express. (I know this from following the author on Twitter.)
That's brilliant news! It felt like there should be more mysteries, although I was dubious about returning to Deepdean after what had happened there, so moving setting makes sense. I'll be on the lookout for those books.
Girl reader

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