Review: Murder Most Unladylike, by Robin Stevens

Murder Most Unladylike - Robin StevensIt was awfully fun too, creeping about behind the others’ backs and pretending to be ordinary when all the time we knew we were detectives on a secret mission to obtain information.

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!

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14 Comments

  1. Heigh ho – I am putting myself up to be shot down 😉 I can’t say I didn’t enjoy much of this, but I have to confess that I was a wee bit disappointed. But perhaps I was expecting too much given how much everyone was loving it…

    And I found at least two anachronisms…..Unfortunately I have already passed my copy on so can’t locate the second one but I am wondering if anyone else spotted anything?

    On the whole I was glad to have read it but…..:-)

    Reply
    • Sorry were disappointed! It’s hard to enjoy books as much as you feel you should sometimes when they’ve had a big build-up.

      Reply
  2. I recall a teacher using the phrase “on topic” – is that an anachronism?

    What were the ones you found?

    Reply
  3. I recall a teacher using the phrase “on topic” – which can’t date from earlier than the 1980s, I think.

    What were the anachronisms you spotted?

    Reply
  4. Bother. This happens about half the time when I try commenting on people’s blogs. I don’t know why – I’m just incompetent with social media.

    Anyway, it’s on page 105. Miss Tennyson.

    Reply
  5. Someone

     /  August 28, 2014

    I bet you liked it because of the body and the gore and the possibility of a Pointy Thing showing up! 🙂

    Reply
  6. I’ve finally read this and I loved it! One of the best reads this year.

    Reply
  7. One was a tray at mealtimes. No way there would have been self-service in those days….meals were an important element of learning how to behave in society.

    The other may well have been “on topic” but as I said I haven’t got the book here to check and my memory for such things is worse than poor.

    I have, however, charged the person I sent it on to (it’s Andrea, Abi :-)) to look out for anachronisms so we’ll see what she comes up with in due course.

    Reply
  8. cestina1, are you sure? A search for word “tray” in the text at Google Books (http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=R9WKAwAAQBAJ) doesn’t get any hits.

    Reply
    • Pretty sure though as I said I don’t have to book to hand at the moment. A passing remark about one of them setting a tray down on the table at a meal…..

      Reply
      • You were correct!

        page 205 “Girls who were meant to walk back to House with me would duck away and go running to where their friends were waiting, and when I sat down at the table for dinner, everyone pulled their trays back very slightly and bent their heads together, looking at me from out of the corner of their eyes.”

  9. I just read The Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr, another recently published girls boarding school mystery. It didn’t grab me. It’s set in the present day, but in a school that bans mobile phones, computers, television and radio, and where the girls dress in brown tunics and say things like “she can’t spell for toffee”. That kind of thing annoys me. If a book is set in the present day, then I want it to feel contemporary. If an author doesn’t want to deal with modern attitudes, culture and technology, then I think they should just set their books in the past. It was so anachronistic that I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief.

    I should say that The Glass Bird Girl has a lot of five star reviews on Amazon, and I’m not the target audience, so there’s no reason why I should have liked it.

    Reply
  10. someone needs to say that The Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.Full of the worst cliches that set school stories of the golden age up for ridicule

    Reply
  1. Review: The Glass Bird Girl by Esme Kerr | So This is School!

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