You know those books you read and start thinking ‘Wow, it’s like the author is telling my story…’ Well, minus the rather gruesome murders, Robin Steven’s fabulous book for 9+ years, Murder Most Unladylike, was a pretty accurate rendition of the secret societies, detective work and general waywardness that Moontrug got up to at school.
When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up a secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they can’t find a truly exciting mystery to solve (unless you count The Case of Lavinia’s Missing Tie. Which they don’t). Then Hazel discovers the body of the Science Mistress, Miss Bell – but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls have to solve a murder, and prove a murder happened in the first place, before the killer strikes again (and before the police get there first, naturally). But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?
Deepdean School For Girls is brilliantly realised by Stevens and paragraphs like: ‘Daisy is all for making up societies for things. Last year we had the Pacifism Society (dull) and then the Spiritualism Society (less dull), but then Lavinia smashed her mug during a seance, and Matron banned Spiritualism altogether’ bring the place totally to life – it’s impossible to read the book and not feel like you’re a pupil at the school. Moontrug was almost shivering at the mention of lacrosse in the wintry months and she laughed out loud when Daisy mentioned levitating poor Beanie then opted for a seance (where she proceeded to correct the other girls’ grammar under the guise of a ghost). But it is set against this vibrant place of societies, midnight feasts, pranks on teachers, far-fetched school gossip and head-girls called King Henry that a very nasty murder happens…
The story is told by Hazel Wong, a Chinese girl sent over to the UK to go to boarding school. At first totally bewildered by the English education system (why do these intelligent girls, who can afford private education, deliberately pretend not to know the answers to questions in class and traipse around the school with frayed shoelaces and battered up hockey sticks?). Stevens brilliantly encapsulates the bizarre and often eccentric life at Deepdean School (‘Whenever girls run away they do it Saturdays, because of that head start’) and she presents Hazel’s transition into it both sensitively and amusingly. Moontrug loved how self-deprecating Hazel is: ‘I didn’t like the idea of the murderer panicking at all’ and ‘Who ever heard of a Chinese Sherlock Holmes?’ and she almost cheered when Hazel started standing up to the headstrong Daisy a bit more.
Daisy and Hazel provide a fabulous detective duo and Moontrug LOVED how they discussed updates on the murder while intermittently singing a hymn! And Daisy’s headstrong and excitable nature is hilarious: ‘I absolutely long to be twenty. I could befriend [her] and lure her into a false sense of security, and then, in private, and when she was least expecting it, I’d spring the shoe print and the blood and the moss on her, and force her to confess.’ But perhaps the best line of the whole book comes from Daisy when the murderer is finally convicted: ‘Spiffing.’ Murder Most Unladylike is an absolutely fabulous book for 9+ years – with a fantastic setting, gorgeous characters, a gripping plot and tons of humour. Moontrug LOVED IT – and it’s well deserving of its place on the Altocumulus Tower. Look out for the next book, Arsenic for Tea, to be published in January 2015.