It’s a stroke of genius to take a murder mystery and set it in a boarding school. It taps into two very popular literary genres – I know that I am not the only person to have grown up reading boarding school books such as Malory Towers, and there’s no doubting the popularity of the murder mystery.
When I picked this up at the library, though I grabbed it from the children’s section, when I got home, I realised it didn’t have a sticker on it, and I couldn’t remember which age range it was written for. It’s definitely for children, but it’s written in such a way that it’s perfectly suitable for adults. Of course, that’s true of the vast majority of children’s stories, but it really struck me that Murder Most Unladylike is a mature book, written in the assumption that the children reading it can deal with the adult themes. That’s not to say that there’s anything in it that is unsuitable, rather that it treats its young readers as intelligent and mature.
The story is written from the perspective of Helen Wong, a young pupil from Hong Kong, and while Daisy is the driving force behind the detective agency, it’s Helen’s voice that gives us all of the details. In this, she’s the Watson of the story, a trope that is highlighted by Daisy and Helen themselves. It’s an amusing tale, written as a boarding school story from the 1930s, but from the perspective of a 21st-century writer, meaning that the casual racism that we get to hear about towards Helen is not entrenched in the writing as it would be in the tales that I loved to read as a child. There’s also some lovely moments that highlight the fact that not all teachers at boarding schools at this time were single women; one of the prime suspects in the story is gay, and her reason for being a suspect is that she was in a relationship with Miss Bell before her death.
It’s just a fabulously written story, full of the suspense and intrigue that makes a good murder mystery, but also staying true to the boarding school story tradition. I loved Murder Most Unladylike, and I’m already looking forward to reading the others in the series!
Murder Most Unladylike
Publication Date: June 2014