Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

published 2014, set in 1934






[Daisy and Hazel are leaving school to visit the Willow café]

When we leave school grounds we are supposed to wear our uniforms, but of course it is no good trying to go anywhere grown-up wearing your pinafore and school tie, and the Willow is certainly grown-up. In summer you have to put on your mufti, then your school clothes over the top (breathing in so Matron doesn’t notice the difference ), and as soon as you’re out of school, wriggle out of your uniform. In winter, though, you can get away with just wearing your school coat and hat out of House and bundling them into a bush as soon as you’re out of sight down the hill. Of course, once you’ve done that, you have to grit your teeth and freeze…

[After visiting the Willow] I thumped straight into someone coming the other way down the street. I yelped and the other person exclaimed in annoyance. Then I gave a gasp of surprise. I was staring up at the chestnut curls and regal nose of King Henry [another schoolgirl]. As soon as she saw us, she spun on her heel and marched away up the street again – but I was sure that she had been about to go into the Willow.


observations: After yesterday's murder story set in a boys' school, Josephine Bell's Death at Half-Term, here's one set in a girls's school of the same era, but written now. 

This is the first in a projected series about schoolgirl detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, who are at a boarding school in England in the 1930s. It is slightly hard to imagine where the future cases are going to come from:
We solved The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie. The solution to that, of course, was that Clementine stole it in revenge for Lavinia punching her in the stomach during lacrosse, which was Lavinia’s revenge for Clementine telling everyone Lavinia came from a broken home.
The book is for children, but someone with a taste for Golden Age detection fiction can’t resist taking a look. It’s a straight mixture of two genres: traditional school story and traditional murder mystery, and there is no winking or irony or modern ideas in there – you could just about imagine that this was written at the time. I was quite surprised when Matron ‘whacked us both around the head.’

The author says that she loves Agatha Christie, who of course wrote the wonderful Cat Among The Pigeons, set in a girls’ boarding school. There are also echoes of Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes, the Enid Blyton school stories set at Malory Towers and St Clare’s, and Antonia Forest’s school stories. There is even a group of girls called The Marys, which for some of us means the girls' magazine Bunty, and the  comic strip The Four Marys. (Which went on for years – my daughter, 2nd generation Bunty reader, asked me once how old they were supposed to be. ‘They must be 104 at least’, I replied).

Anyway, Hazel finds the body of Miss Bell the science teacher, in the gym. The body disappears, and Miss Bell supposedly has ‘resigned’ so the two third formers investigate themselves, making lists of suspects and alibis. Maps are provided. They work their way through various suspects, till everyone is either dead or eliminated, then find the solution more or less by chance. But that’s fine. It’s not a stunning mystery, but it’s an enjoyable book, and one that I hope young people might like, so they get a taste for murder mysteries.

14 comments:

  1. Moira - It sounds like a solid look at the era and the context. And I'm glad you found it enjoyable to read, even if the mystery isn't breathtaking. As you say, anything that encourages young people to read is, to me, a good thing. And there's something about that school atmosphere....

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    1. Yes, I always like to read anything set in boarding schools, and a period setting is a bonus. This was one was a good read.

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  2. Not feeling this one I'm afraid - I'll stick to my Crews!

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  3. Not sure about this one. I am not really one for children's or young adult books, although I know it really should not make a difference. But I love that description of changing out of a uniform. We use to do something similar in college because we could not wear slacks outside of the dorm. And it seems like the protagonist does similar things in Among Others by Jo Walton.

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    1. I know what you mean - I like to re-read old favourite children books, but not as interested in YA novels as some people are. However, boarding school and murder mystery clicked my buttons. And now you have suggested another Jo Walton book that I'll have to read!

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  4. Like Nancy Drew at school? Must look for this... if only for the illustrations.

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    1. Yes, that's a pretty good description Susan. However, the illustration above is my own, from an ancient book. I'm not sure if the book itself has any - I read it on Kindle so wouldn't necessarily know....

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  5. Moira, I haven't read many novels set in academia aside from Enid Blyton's Malory Towers and St. Clare’s; the Hardy Boys of Bayport High, albeit remotely; Just Williams by Richman Crompton; the academic elements in John Irving's "The World According to Garp"; and, of course, the Harry Potter stories. But you tempt me with this children's book for "someone with a taste for Golden Age detection fiction."

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    1. Well that's a pretty good collection in my view! I never really read the Hardy Boys, but the others are all well-known to me. This one might not be to everyone's tastes, but it's nicely-done.

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  6. Made me remember the Chalet School series, set in Switzerland, as well...

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    1. [Sorry you had to comment twice Gabi - blogger is very unreliable, and also I have moderation on] Yes indeed, I was a huge fan of the Chalet School stories, there must have been more than 50 of them, which is a very good thing in a series. How I loved them - I wanted to go to school in the snow mountains of Tirol.

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    2. Gosh yes so did I...or any boarding school! My Mum still has all my Chalet School books, and I think I had most of them, although as I would have been reading them in the early 80s they became a bugger to get, as they were getting very out of fashion...I thought Jo was just fabulous! And I recall the Four Marys, with your prompting, although I'd never have remembered them on my own...I love the fact my Mum's kept all my books, although I can't see them making my fortune on eBay, as they are so battered, as they were so greatly loved by me!

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    3. You're very lucky! they were very hard to get hold of, and I used to get them from the library whenever possible, I would be going there and hoping and hoping that there would be a Chalet School story that I hadn't read yet. And yes - Jo - naughty but honourable schoolgirl, best-selling writer AND then wonderful mother to 10 children to provide the next generation!

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