I am prompted to write this post just before the release of the special 5th anniversary edition of Book One in the Murder Most Unladylike series. I simply cannot believe that it is only five years since I first encountered The Detective Society! October 2014 was memorable. My sister phoned one evening to tell me she had heard an interview with a young writer on Woman’s Hour, and she was sure the story discussed would appeal to my book-mad youngest child. The author was Robin Stevens, the book was called Murder Most Unladylike. Intrigued, we downloaded the first book to the Kindle that night…and we were hooked!
At the time of writing this review, there have been seven full-length books, a guide to detecting and three shorter mysteries published, with Book 8 due in summer 2019. These books cleverly combine the joys of boarding school stories (where the parents are out of the picture, so the kids can have adventures) think Malory Towers, St Claire’s, Hogwarts, with the delights of page-turning detective fiction (Agatha Christie for example). They are set in the 1930s, so no internet or mobile phones exist to spoil the suspense.
It might seem strange to say this, considering that each story features gruesome murder, but the recurring themes of this series are kindness, bravery, friendship and loyalty. All wrapped up in hugely enjoyable detective mysteries. Will you be able to solve the clues, discard the red herrings and spot the murderer before the intrepid “Detective Society” duo of Daisy and Hazel?
I shall try not to give away any plot spoilers…but please read on for short summaries of each of the books in the Murder Most Unladylike series . They look beautiful on your bookshelf with their rainbow coloured covers and sumptuous 1930s-style title font. As if this wasn’t enough – there are always maps inside the front covers and I adore books with maps! Pull up a comfy chair, get yourself a plate of cakes for bunbreak and enjoy!
Book 1 Murder Most Unladylike
1934, deep in the English countryside we encounter Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy Wells appears to be a quintessential upper-class English school girl: blonde hair, blue eyes, beautiful and from an aristocratic family. She is able to hide her extreme cleverness under a laissez-faire attitude from everyone but the equally smart new girl, Hazel Wong. Hazel has been sent from her home in Hong Kong to drizzly, cold England by her fabulously rich father who wishes her to experience an English education. She struggles to fit in to the rather racist surroundings until kind-hearted Daisy befriends her and enrols her as secretary of her top-secret “Detective Society”.
Their investigative careers begin when Hazel discovers the body of Miss Bell, the science mistress, in the gym – but after dashing away to fetch Daisy, the girls return to find that the body has disappeared! It is apparent to the young investigators that a killer stalks the corridors of their boarding school. Will they be able to outwit the criminal and protect the remaining staff and students?
Book 2 Arsenic for Tea
A classic “country house” murder mystery! It is the Easter holidays and Hazel has been invited to stay at Daisy’s picture-book country house, Fallingford, with its maze, servants and state of faded grandeur. She is not the only friend invited to celebrate Daisy’s birthday. The guest list includes: Daisy’s brother Bertie who has invited his school-friend, Stephen; mysterious, replacement governess Miss Alston; Kitty and Beanie their friends from Deepdean; Great-aunt Saskia; dashing and brilliant Uncle Felix and Denis Curtis, a special guest of Daisy’s mother.
Both Daisy and Hazel detect that there is something “going on” with Mr Curtis, and they are both intrigued by frumpy Miss Alston’s reaction to this fashionable man. The mystery deepens when Mr Curtis becomes fatally ill at Daisy’s birthday tea, and the finger of suspicion points at Daisy’s beloved father, Lord Hastings! The Detective Society and associate members Kitty and Beanie have a case to solve. (My daughter loved this story so much that she recreated it as a Lego stop-frame animation. I shall put a link at the end of this post, but it does contain spoilers, so please don’t watch until you have read the book.)
Book 3 First Class Murder
Hazel’s father is so upset that she has spent the Easter holidays investigating a murder that he decides to take her and Daisy away from England for the summer holidays to broaden their minds by exploring Europe on the Orient Express. He strictly forbids the girls from any talk of crime as he wishes them to have a luxurious, relaxing and culturally enriching holiday. However, as the travelling party makes their way to the first class carriage they encounter an extraordinarily wealthy heiress, wearing a glittering diamond necklace…and you just know that crime is waiting along the tracks! With a fabulous cast of fellow travellers, and Daisy’s choice of holiday reading material being “Murder on the Orient Express”, you know what to expect!
On this journey the Detective Society meet up with a young male detective, Alexander Arcady, who is one half of the Junior Pinkertons with his best friend George, and who will feature in future MMU investigations.
Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Blue Violet
Book 4 Jolly Foul Play
It is the new winter term at Deepdean and Daisy is furious because she was looking up at the fireworks as a murder occurred on the school field! The murder victim was the school’s Head Girl, Elizabeth Hurst, who is described by our reliable narrator Hazel as someone who “was in the business of secrets.” She surrounded herself with a bunch of acolytes known as “the Five” and collectively they were hated and feared at Deepdean. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Elizabeth has been done away with in this school where murder seems to be quite expected – but will Daisy and Hazel be able to untangle a web of secrets and identify the culprit?
Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Deepdean Vampire
Book 5 Mistletoe and Murder
After an Autumn term investigating the murder of their Head Girl, Daisy Wells and Heather Wong need a relaxing Christmas break. So for Christmas 1935 they head Cambridge to visit Daisy’s brother Bertie who has completed his first term at fictional Maudlin College, and stay with Daisy’s Great Aunt Eustacia, a Mathematics don at fictional St Lucy’s College. It is also a chance to see Alexander Arcady again, and meet his best friend George, as they are staying with George’s older brother Harold who is also a student at the university.
Of course, with Daisy and Hazel in town, murder cannot be far behind, and this time The Detective Society are in a race with The Junior Pinkertons to see who can solve the clues first. With detectives as sharp as the cold December frosts this mystery will grip you and entertain you in equal measure.
Cream Buns and Crime: Detective Tips, Short Stories including the two mini-mysteries, Code-breaking Tips and basically a lot of background information on The Detective Society.
Book 6 A Spoonful of Murder
Now it is Daisy’s turn to feel out-of-place and foreign as she and Hazel travel to Hong Kong to stay in the luxurious compound owned by Hazel’s father, Vincent Wong, an extremely wealthy banker. Interestingly, Hazel also finds that the two years she has spent in England have changed her outlook, and there are times when she struggles to be the dutiful, obedient daughter that she is expected to be … particularly following the brutal murder of a family servant and a kidnap!
A thrilling, fast-paced adventure set against the oriental backdrop of Hong Kong’s famous sites where Daisy and Hazels will need every ounce of bravery and ingenuity to take on the forces threatening the Wong family.
Mini-mystery: The Case of the Missing Treasure
Book 7 Death in the Spotlight
In an attempt to keep Daisy and Hazel out of trouble and allow them to recover from their exertions in Hong Kong they are sent to stay with Daisy’s Uncle Felix and Aunt Lucy in London. Unfortunately, Felix, Lucy and even their maid Bridget are involved in “secretive work” meaning that they cannot always look after their young guests. Therefore, a marvellous scheme is hatched to allow the girls to become temporary cast members at the Rue Theatre, owned by one of Lucy’s contacts.
Daisy is overjoyed at the prospect of understudying the roles at this famous Shakespearean theatre, and although Hazel is more circumspect, she too finds the theatre “gloriously impressive”. It doesn’t take long for The Detective Society to uncover seething jealousy and unpleasant pranks amongst the cast members, and before you know it the stage is set for murder.
The Junior Pinkertons, Alexander and George, make a welcome appearance to provide detecting assistance on this case. Additionally, Daisy and Hazel have to examine their friendship and their feelings for other characters, making this the most mature of the books to date.
I have been fortunate to read all of the MMU books in order, but children who borrow them from the school library (where they are always in high demand) tell me that they are enjoyable no matter what order you read them in. The voice of Hazel is an absolute joy as she not only outlines every case in logical, forensic detail, but also analyses the behaviour of the characters who surround her, in particular Daisy Wells. The loyal friendship between the pair is at the heart of The Detective Society and I hope that their teamwork, courage and allegiance develops through many, many more mysteries. Highly recommended for ages 9+.
Here is the link to the Lego stop-frame animation of Arsenic for Tea – but please don’t watch it until you have read the book!