Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens takes place in the 1930s at Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong have set up a secret Detective Society. So far the most exciting thing they’ve detected has been The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie (case closed). But that’s before Hazel discovers the body in the Gym – which then disappears!
Murder Most Unladylike might have only been published in 2014, but it is a classic school story nonetheless. Many of the elements are there: midnight feasts, pranks and pashes. But it’s also a classic murder mystery, with clues, red herrings and an ultimate, Agatha Christie style, showdown with the suspects at the end. The period detail isn’t overdone, but what there is is very convincing and makes the story and its setting feel completely authentic.
Our heroines, Daisy and Hazel, are beautifully drawn. Daisy appears, on the surface, to be the typical English schoolgirl, blonde, blue-eyed and obsessed with sport. Hazel, on the other hand, is stolid and unsporty but equally intelligent. Together they make the perfect detecting team and it’s hardly surprising that they get to the bottom of the mystery before the police do – particularly as they have an excellent head start!
The book starts briskly – the body has already come and gone by page 20, and things don’t slow down after that. Every chapter brings some new clue, suspect or twist in the plot. Having said that, the useful Suspect List which appears every so often helps the reader to keep track of what’s going on so there’s none of that getting lost in the details which can happen in the best of detective stories.
There are one or two more modern elements to Murder Most Unladylike, aside from the fact that there is a murder in a children’s book at all. There is the fact that the narrator is not just a foreigner but from ‘The Orient’. It’s rather interesting, because it gives an outsider’s view of the school and its traditions, as well, of course, as highlighting the low-level bullying that would undoubtedly have gone on. In addition, there is the romantic part of the plot and especially the mention of two girls ‘canoodling’ in the laundry cupboard. Very racy stuff for the 1930s!
Murder Most Unladylike is supposed to be for the 9-12s, but I can’t imagine anyone reading it and not enjoying it. It’s certainly a must for anyone who enjoys school stories of any kind. Buy it now, is my advice!