Title: Murder Most Unladylike (A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery)
Author: Robin Stevens
Publisher: Puffin Books
Readership: Middle Grade
At Deapdean School for Girls, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong have set up their own detective agency. But they are struggling to find any real crimes to investigate…
(Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t.)
Then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym.
To add to the mystery, when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared.
Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove one happened in the first place.
Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning and intuition they can muster.
But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?
It’s tough to review a book that you were excited to read but were ultimately disappointed by in the end. Murder Most Unladylike is one of those books for me – I picked it up because my students were after more crime/mystery recommendations for their age group (which is does fit) but in the end it fell kind of flat.
Hazel Wong narrates the story, as one half of a secret detective agency set against the backdrop of Deepen School for Girls in England. It’s a posh boarding school (and very English) and while it might delight some readers, I think there’s a bit of translation needed for most middle-grade readers – which is why there’s a glossary at the end of the book.
Hazel starts at the school approximately a year prior to the beginning of the book, boarding away from her family who live in Hong Kong. She has an unlikely friendship with Daisy, the blue-eyed, blond-haired ingenue of the school who leads Hazel on many ill-advised adventures, that ultimately culminate in the beginning of the secret detective agency. Everything’s pretty ordinary until Hazel, the dubbed ‘Watson’ of the pair, stumbles across the dead body of a teacher in the gym one evening – only to return with Daisy and another student to find the body removed. Daisy and Hazel set out to solve the murder, investigating the teachers who may or may not have been involved and their motives.
There are a lot of things to like about the story – Hazel, being a person of colour main character who is intelligent and learning to stand up for herself (sort of). It’s a middle-grade mystery, which is fantastic because it’s the sort of things kids really like to read about. It also exposes students to a school setting that’s a bit different to what they’re normally familiar with.
On the other hand, the list of things that bothered me is quite a bit longer, starting with Daisy.
Daisy is an incredibly unlikeable character who’s smart but refuses to show that because ‘it’s not cool’ to be smart, and yet she holds her intelligence over Hazel all the time. She’s a bit of a bully and yet nothing is said about it, as though her behaviour and the way she coerces Hazel into situations is acceptable. And the way she treats other people is, honestly, deplorable.
I found it difficult to place the time of the story – it could be historical fiction, but it could also be closer to contemporary times. It’s just not clear and that wouldn’t normally bother me, except for the language used and the way the school girls treat one another. I think it needs to be made clearer because if it’s historical fiction then you could put everything in context with a time period, if not, then I have serious questions about putting this in the hands of young readers.
The mystery was not all that engaging if I’m being honest. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with it, I just wasn’t all that invested in what happened, or with the private lives of the teachers that the schoolgirls seemed to enjoy investigating and uncovering. The twist was nice towards the end, but the path getting through was less so.
I’m glad I read the book, but I don’t know if I’ll continue with the series.