Friday, September 11, 2015
Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens
by Robin Stevens
Published by: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
US Publication Date: April 21, 2015
Genre: Children's Mystery
Age Range: 10 and up
Source: purchased book
From the author's website:
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.
Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve: they have to prove a murder happened in the first place. Determined to get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again (and before the police can get there first, naturally), Hazel and Daisy must hunt for evidence, spy on their suspects and use all the cunning, scheming and intuition they can muster. But will they succeed? And can their friendship stand the test?
(Yes I redacted the name - you can figure it out early on in the story so it isn't a critical spoiler but seriously, who gives away the name of the murder victim in the book blurb?? Bad form! If you absolutely must know, highlight the box to see the text.)
I heard about this book ages ago and had been really looking forward to it. I saw several gushing early reviews and it sounded like just my kind of thing. Now that I finally have gotten my hands on the book - well, um, I am not as excited about it honestly. I do like the set up, the mystery turned out to work for me and I really, really like the book's narrator - Hazel Wong. Other things though I was less enthused about.
Hazel is from Hong Kong, so seeing an English boarding school through her eyes is a rewarding experience. Her father, a lover of all things British, sent his daughter to a country that she is finding rather cold - weather wise and also in terms of her reception by the students and staff at the school. This aspect of the book was excellent.
On the other hand, Daisy Wells is presented as a perfect blonde, peaches and cream skinned aristocratic English girl. She is also bossy, self-centered, impulsive and rather cruel. Apparently some people find this contrast makes the two girls a great team. My take was rather different and I was somewhat uncomfortable with the dynamic. Is a person really your friend if they only like you when you are passive and comply with their demands ? There was eventually some give in the relationship but I found the power dynamic and how the book dealt with it quite discomforting.
I also understand given the time period, but utterly hate, the idea that the characters feel compelled to pretend to lack intelligence in order to make friends and be popular. The book treats this as perfectly obvious and the right/normal thing to do. Yuck.
Hazel and Daisy are pretty well developed characters, regardless of how I personally responded to them, so that is a plus. The rest of the cast I felt was less interesting and more of series of rather blurry stereotypes. The sense of place was strong, however, and I appreciated that.
As I mentioned, the mystery was pretty well done with some nicely laid out clues. I did see where it was going, but I have read lots of mysteries so that isn't surprising. The best part about the mystery is that the author managed to pull the resolution together in a nice, plausible manner. I was really, really worried that I was about to see a Scooby-Doo style ending - "I would have gotten away with it too if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!" - that would have totally destroyed the credibility the book had built up. The author skirted close to this but managed to pull off an ending that was satisfying for child readers without blowing the suspension of disbelief of older readers.
Soooo - I am interested enough to read the next book at some point, just too see if there is some growth in Daisy, but not enough to go out of my way to find it. The down side is that I am not interested in having my kids read the book really. We are already having discussions of what a real friend is and how giving a person presents to make them your friend means that they really are not being a friend to you. (Sorry - that came out rocky but I hope that you understand what I mean.) The book presents Hazel and Daisy's friendship as appropriate, whereas I see exactly the sort of dynamics that I want my children to learn to avoid in some of their budding relationships. Perhaps when they are older the book will be fruitful for discussion, but right now they are too unsure of themselves and this is not a helpful model.
Murder is Bad Manners was first published in the UK as Murder Most Unladylike. There are two more UK titles: Arsenic for Tea and First Class Murder.