When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong set up their very own deadly secret detective agency at Deepdean School for Girls, they struggle to find any truly exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia's missing tie. Which they don't, really.)
But then Hazel discovers the Science Mistress, Miss Bell, lying dead in the Gym. She thinks it must all have been a terrible accident - but when she and Daisy return five minutes later, the body has disappeared. Now the girls know a murder must have taken place . . . and there's more than one person at Deepdean with a motive.
The first books I can remember really falling in love with as a child were Enid Blyton's Famous Five and Five Find-Outers books, and so began a love of mystery stories. I progressed across the Atlantic to The Three Investigators series, but as I hit the age of 11 or 12 I returned to good old Blighty and Agatha Christie (you have to remember that in those days there was no such thing as YA). I never really gelled with Miss Marple, but I read every single Poirot story, most of them multiple times, and I still have favourites to this day. As far as I was aware at the time with my limited experience, nobody wrote mystery stories quite as well as the English.
Not long ago I was asked at school by a colleague if I knew of any great mystery stories for kids that had been published recently. My colleague's daughter had read all of the aforementioned Blyton stories and wanted to move onto something more contemporary, but still set in Britain. Only three sprang immediately to mind: Clementine Beauvais' Sesame Seade books, Lauren St John's Laura Marlin Mysteries and the Adventure Island series by Helen Moss. Not exactly a huge list given the vast number of children's books published these days. I am happy to say that there is now another to add to that list.
Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens is like Holmes and Watson, but set in a girls' boarding school in the 1930s, and with a soupçon of Jeeves and Wooster thrown in for good measure. Ok, it may not be a modern day setting like those others I have mentioned, but the writing is most definitely 21st Century. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are both students at Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy in pretty much good at everything - she is the attractive, confident leader-type who breezes through life as one of the most popular girls in school. She forms an unlikely friendship with the timid and introspective Hazel Wong, and together they form the Wells & Wong Detective Society. Soon they find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery within the walls of their school, complete with a disappearing body and multiple suspects.
Robin Stevens has perfectly captured the feel of all of those classic mystery stories that I loved as a child, and wrapped it up in a story that will have great appeal to 9+ kids today. Her story is funny and clever, and her two heroines come across as a very realistic pairing. Although Daisy tends to domineer the less-confident Hazel, often ignoring her wise words of caution which occasionally puts both of the girls in danger, Hazel is certainly more than just a foil to Daisy, and their society could just as rightly be called Wong & Wells. Never having been a student in a girl's boarding school (either now or in the 1930s), I can't really attest to the realness of the setting, but somehow it just feels right. Naturally, being a 1930s boarding school the dialogue is littered with all kinds of boarding school slang (reminding me of the brilliant Molesworth books), but the author very helpfully includes a glossary at the end of the book to help out us mere modern day working class readers.
Murder Most Unladylike is the first in a series (I've no idea how many books are planned) and I've definitely been left wanting more. Although the book is set in a girls' boarding school, with nary a young male character in sight, I still think this book has great appeal to boys who like traditional, British-set mystery stories.