Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Tuesday Night Club: School Mysteries



Our Tuesday Night group of fiction fans has chosen schoolsAcademic logo & academia as our theme for June.

Thanks to Bev, as ever, for the excellent logo. She has also kindly offered to collect the links for the various pieces.

If anyone wants to join in, just send a link to one of us or post it in the comments below.





 

Academic mysteries have always been a favourite of mine: nothing perks up my interest like discovering the setting is a school or college or university. I decided to have a quick look to see how many school mysteries I’d covered on the blog, and the result was overwhelming, surprising even me. (And this was just school, no further education…)


I even did a list of favourite books set in schools with my friend Chrissie Poulson – we chose almost the same books – although that included novels as well as murder stories.

So I’ve decided to devote this week just to murder stories set in schools, an tried to limit myself to comments on my favourites. Links are to blog posts where applicable.

 

Best Murder Stories Set in Schools



Murder Most Unladylike
‘You did it!’ ‘No, you!’
 
Edmund Crispin Love Lies Bleeding – the usual fun farrago featuring Gervase Fen and a death in the lab. Boys’ and girls’ school next to each other, and a joint production of a Shakespeare play.
Key to place on list: the headmistress describes a pupil’s family as 
‘worldly. The parents are of the expensive, cocktail-party-and-chromium kind.' 
As I said before:Wouldn’t you love it if the headteacher of your children’s school described you that way? Worldly. I wish.


The Secret Place by Tana French  Bang uptodate with this 2014 book, taking its place among those stately old GA schools. Again, boys’ school next to girls’ school. I found this book close to unputdownable, and thought French did an amazing job of taking us into the world of the girls.


Key to place on the list: The set up where the girls can put anonymous ‘notes on anything’ on a public noticeboard – this leads to a new investigation into a murder. Great for plot purposes, but a really terrible idea in a school.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie The school is Meadowbank and it sounds lovely, apart from all the murders. The girls have their own rooms, and play tennis, and go up to London for cultural events.



Key to place on the list: Funny, engrossing, clever and wide-ranging. One of my favourite Christies. Matron disapproves of push-up bras.

 
Night of the Twelfth_thumb[2]


The Night of the Twelfth by Michael Gilbert A lovely safe book set in a boys’ prep school in the 1970s. Except it seems that way, then turns into something darker. It is terrifying and brilliant. It gave me nightmares.


Key to place on the list: Can’t say without spoilering, but a realization as you finish it of the audacious placing of an idea…

The Clue in the Castle by Joyce Bevins Webb – aka the book that only I have read. It is what we would now call a YA novel, but also a good honest crime story, with deaths, alibis, clues and general trouble. It is one of my favourite books of all time, and has a plot that defies description.


Key to place on the list: Too many features to mention.My blogpost on it has a list of about 16 major items of joy.


 
Clue in the Castle 5_thumb[1]


Little Lies by Liane Moriarty Fabulous modern Australian author, who does achingly funny and clever pictures of modern life, with some kind of secret and death hidden in plain sight. This one is such an accurate picture of school mothers, and the PTA, and the fund-raiser that is going to end in something terrible…


Key to place on the list: casual gems on every page about the minutiae of life. And a good crime plot too.


Through a Glass Darkly by Helen McCloy Death of a teacher at very upmarket girls’s school in New England. Even better, it happens at a teaparty for staff, parents and trustees, and the victim is wearing a bright orange housecoat. This is a very sinister and unsettling book, about doubles and doppelgangers, but with a solid detective structure too.


Key to place on the list: At the school they are performing a Greek play, in Greek, with authentic costumes. There’s the school for our daughters.

The Ingenious Mr Stone by Robert Player Another of my obscure favourites, though through crime fiction blogging I have met other readers! The first part of this multiple-viewpoint book comes takes place in a girls’ school on the south coast of England, one with a very fancy chapel and something valuable… It is a superb book, very very clever and witty, and one that keeps turning your perceptions round.


Key to place on the list: intriguing staff list, from the hopeless bursar, via the very worrying headmistress, to the brave teacher who comes to the rescue.

Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses by Catriona McPherson The wonderful Dandy is a very upmarket 1920s detective, and in this book she goes to investigate dubious goings-on at a girls’ school in Scotland.


Key to place on the list: Dandy is a narrator to relish, and the girls’ uniform features a lot of yellow.

 
There are at least another half-dozen school mysteries on the blog.

These are arranged  randomly, I didn’t want to give an order of preference. But I was willing to at least try to be decisive in one area:



The school I would most want to have attended



 - is a too-close-to-choose split decision between Agatha Christie’s Meadowbank, and Castle Monastery School in the Clue in the Castle.


I'm still ready to read more school mysteries – I am hoping readers might have some good ones to add in the comments…




































37 comments:

  1. Oh, this is near to my heart, Moira! I love this post. There are so many good mysteries and series set in schools, and it's not surprising. There's all sorts of possibility for conflict, for personality, and so much more. What a treat of a post! And now my head is buzzing with all sorts of stories that are set in schools...

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    1. I knew I'd catch you with this one Margot! So hoping you might do a similar blogpost soon...

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  2. I'm holding on to this list, Moira! I've only read two of them, and I loved Cat Among the Pigeons and Through a Glass, Darkly. I'm doing Gervase Fen in the next week or two as well, and Pretty Little Lies has sat on my Kindle for a year! But you REALLY have me intrigued by The Clue in the Castle! Say it's not a Nancy Drew clone, and I'm buying it!!!

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    1. Thanks Brad! The Clue in the Castle is a complete one-off, not remotely like Nancy Drew or anything else. I hope you can find a copy, it's quite hard to track down...

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  3. What a blissful post, Moira. Almost as good as actually reading a school mystery. Have you read Joanne Harris's Gentlemen and Players? That does deserve adding to the list.

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    1. Knew you'd love it Chrissie! Do you know, I just saw a reference to the Harris book this week (has she just published a sequel?), and I hadn't realized it was school-based at all, so must look it up.

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  4. Yes, two hearts beating as one at the prospect of a school mystery! Gladys Mitchell also wrote one: Death at the Opera (it's a school production of The Mikado).

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    1. Oh yes, I forgot that one - I was thinking of Gladys as doing a lot with teacher training colleges (future entry maybe?) and forgot that she did do school too....

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  5. Do you fancy doing shared lists of books (mysteries or general) set in colleges and universities sometime?

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    1. My first thought was that we must have already done this, which is telling isn't it? But we haven't so yes let's! Mixed murder and not would be maybe more intriguing...

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  6. I had to check, too. Yes, let's go for mixed. Our top eight?

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  7. School mysteries? Well, there's always Miss Pym Disposes, (which I have read), and the Carolus Deane mysteries (which I have not). And Amanda Cross (read so long ago I can't remember them).

    I loved Trixie Belden when I was in grade school, but strictly speaking those weren't 'school' mysteries.



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    1. Ha! You beat me to it. I came here to suggest adding Miss Pym Disposes to the list. I reread it perhaps a year ago, and liked it even more than I had the first time around.

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    2. I've read a Carolus Deene since making this list, but very little of it took place in the actual school. Amanda Cross I never took to, but maybe should try it again. Miss Pym is one of my all-time favourite mysteries, and I have read it several times. But I think I need to do another list for institutions of further education - Miss Pym, and then all those Gladys Mitchel training colleges...

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    3. If one has the patience, there are girls' school series books galore from the immediate pre- and post-WWI era showing up in online libraries -- "Grace Harlowe's Junior Year" etc and ad nauseum.

      They all feature mild whodunnits of the "how did the mean rich girl frame the sweet scholarship student with a forged exam paper?" variety.

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    4. Now that you mention it, I recall that most of the Jennings books (set in an English boarding school) by Anthony Buckeridge are of this type.

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    5. Solving the crime was definitely a feature of UK school stories too. Dirty work to get into the lacrosse team, and a dramatic Enid Blyton involving jumping up and down on a fountain pen ('we're looking for shoes with ink-stained soles!'). Training us all up for detective stories.
      And Jennings - oh how I loved those books, which were somewhat gentler, extremely well-plotted and hilariously funny. My own children - living a life about as far from Linbury Court school as it is possible to imagine in the West - absolutely loved them too. They bring a smile to my face every time...

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  8. Can't believe Danny King's School for Scumbags didn't make the list, a glaring oversight!
    Have you read Thomas H. Cook's The Chatham School Affair, it won an Edgar. No? Me neither, but it's in the tubs!

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    1. I've read several of Cook's novels, and they've all been excellent. I have a couple in my TBR bookcases, so must go check if this is one of them.

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    2. Actually I had quite forgotten School for Scumbags of blessed memory, could have rounded the list out to an even 10! I have read the Cook: I read a book by him about every 10 years, and always enjoy them but don't seek out more...

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  9. Well, I really liked the Crispin and the Gilbert books but have not read the others, for which many thanks Moira!

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    1. Thanks Sergio - if you ever suddenly feel the need for an academic mystery you will know where to come...

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  10. Moira, I can't think of any examples of school mysteries even though I might have read some in the past. Michael Gilbert, who has written an awful lot of mysteries, is on my list of authors to read.

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    1. I think you will like Michael Gilbert. He has very varied settings, which adds to his appeal.

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  11. I love the Crispin book. Michael Gilbert is someone else that I have a high regard for, but I've never read that particular book. The banner for this particular item is MURDER ON THE BLACKBOARD by Stuart Palmer, which has schoolmarm sleuth Hildegarde Withers as the main character. In the later books she is retired, but in this early effort you have slayings taking place against the background of blackboards and detentions. I first became aware of the character when I saw some movie versions starring Edna May Oliver. The books have remained in print (on and off) and it's pretty easy to find them. Palmer was an excellent writer, and it's nice to see that he hasn't been entirely forgotten.

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    1. ggary, I dedicated my post this week to Miss Withers: https://ahsweetmysteryblog.wordpress.com/2016/06/07/murder-on-the-blackboard-hildegarde-withers-on-page-and-screen/
      I loved Edna May Oliver in everything she did, even when she was miscast (as Lady Catherine in Pride and Prejudice). She was the perfect Hildegarde Withers, and I did not know that she actually was one of Palmer's inspirations for the character.

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    2. I have had Palmer/Withers on my radar for years without ever reading the books, but really must now, with both of you recommending them, and it sounds as though I should start with Blackboard. I really enjoyed your post, Brad.

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    3. How could I have forgotten Hildegarde Withers?

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    4. Definitely moving up the list...

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  12. Recently read "Jolly Foul Play" by Robin Stevens - whodunit set in a girl's boarding school and part of a series. GREAT FUN. I now want to track down the rest in the series.

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    1. Daniel, I read another of the series, and someone else reminded me on Twitter of her books - so I should get hold of this one.

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  13. I have read none of the books on your list. The Christie and the Michael Gilbert would be tops on my list to read someday. I am sure I have read many academic mysteries over the years (the Amanda Cross books come to mind) but the only ones I specifically remember are The Headmaster's Wife by Jane Haddam and Well-Schooled In Murder by Elizabeth George.

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    1. Particularly recommend the Gilbert to you, Tracy, because I know you enjoyed another of his books.
      I'm trying to remember - one of the early John le Carre's had a semi-school setting didn't it? You've read them recently, can you remember that?

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    2. Oh, right, absolutely. That is why I am no good at this. A Murder of Quality, his second book: the wife of an assistant master at the Carne School is killed. Almost the whole book is set at the school, and involves students and instructors. And town and school relationships, etc. And very much a mystery, not espionage at all.

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    3. There we go - you have secret school mystery knowledge!

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