Well, I’ve only reached #Book5 of my #20BooksOfSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books.com, mainly because I’ve prioritised new books sent by publishers rather than those which were on my original TBR list. However NOTHING was going to stop me reading Death Sets Sail as soon as it was published, this final book in a much loved series had a huge emotional pull for me.
As a brief introduction for anyone who is not familiar with the Murder Most Unladylike series, the first book appeared in 2014, written by debut author Robin Stevens and described as a cross between Malory Towers and Agatha Christie. I read the first couple as bedtime stories to my youngest, took her to several hugely entertaining book festival events where she became a loyal fan of Robin Stevens and a fully-fledged #DetectiveSociety devotee. I have not met a single child who has not become a fan of the series after reading any one of the books.
Fast forward to August 2020 and Death Sets Sail is launched in an extravaganza of gold foil, sprayed blue edges and excitement combined with slight apprehension from long term fans. I imagine that it must have been quite a daunting challenge to complete the series in a manner which would allow the characters of Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong to continue to mature but also bring their adventures to a satisfying conclusion. In this reviewer’s opinion, Robin Stevens has achieved this goal in tremendous style and I thoroughly enjoyed this murder mystery despite finding something in my eye towards the end!
I do not want to discuss the plot in too much detail for fear of giving away spoilers therefore I will just give a brief outline. Daisy and Hazel have been invited to spend the 1936 Christmas holidays in Egypt by their school friend Amina El Maghrabi. Hazel’s wealthy father has agreed to travel from Hong Kong with Hazel’s two younger sisters May and Rose to join the girls on a Nile cruise from Luxor to Aswan. To complete the young detective contingent on the cruise The Junior Pinkertons, George and Alexander, long term allies and rivals of The Detective Society, have also contrived to join the cruise. Fellow travellers include Amina’s former tutor Miss Beauvais, George and Alexander’s tutor Mr Young and The Breath of Life Society, a cohort of wealthy British eccentrics who believe themselves to be re-incarnations of Ancient Egyptian deities. Hence the stage is set for an exquisitely plotted MG homage to Death on the Nile.
Robin Stevens has honed her craft brilliantly over the last six years and has constructed an entertaining murder mystery which you just can’t put down once you’ve embarked. I love the way that she doesn’t gloss over the unacceptable attitudes to race that were prevalent in the 1930s. Issues of cultural appropriation and white privilege are highlighted and the need to remove these attitudes from society is made plain. Hazel, who started the series as a shy and insecure arrival from Hong Kong has blossomed into a confident young woman who is proud of her talent for logical deduction, able to stand up to her father and is no longer prepared to defer to Daisy on everything. The Honourable Daisy Wells is still inclined to be “Daisy-ish” meaning that she single-mindedly pursues her own agenda, dismissing the suggestions or feelings of others at times, but is ultimately the courageous best friend that we would all wish for in a crisis. She has the ability to strengthen Hazel’s nerve when required with a muttered “Buck up, Watson!” and their unbreakable friendship is one of the joys of this series.
Many of the earliest fans of the MMU books will now be aged 15/16, the same age as Daisy and Hazel appear in this book, and will identify with the girls maturing and experiencing their first loves. I have a favourite quote by Farrah Serroukh, Learning Programme Leader at the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education (CLPE) in the Reflecting Realities (2018) report “The space between what is written and what is read is often a safe space in which we can make sense of our lives and the world around us.” Robin Stevens has presented Daisy’s sexuality as a natural part of the story and kept the content entirely suitable for an MG readership. I would imagine that presenting a lesbian character as a strong confident protagonist rather than a victim of bullying will help everyone to feel accepted for who they are and encourage acceptance of others. At one point in the book Hazel reflects that “there is no one way for a heroine to look or be.” which for me perfectly encapsulates the core message of the Detective Society.
Finally, it should be said that Robin Stevens has thoroughly researched the Ancient Egyptian content of the story and as this is a period covered by the primary school history curriculum there will be many cross curricular opportunities for using this book on top of the obvious ReadforPleasure! With its shining golden cover and beautiful design and artwork by Nina Tara this truly is a book to treasure and a perfect ending to a series that has accompanied many young bookworms through childhood.
You can read my reviews of the first seven books in the MMU series here.
You can read my review of Book 8: Top Marks for Murder here.
You can read my review of the World Book Day 2020 title The Case of the Drowned Pearl here.