Series Review: Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries

Now, as you could probably tell from Monday's TBR Post, I just finished Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens. I absolutely adored it, and therefore need to scream about it from the rooftops (what else is an obsessed bookworm to do?).

Hence, a series review! (Well, I say review . . . probably more like an obsessed rave.)

Gah! Where do I even start, talking about such an amazing series?

The characters are to die for - ha, me and my murder puns - and I'm especially fond of the protagonist, Hazel. She's a Hong Kong Chinese girl in the middle of traditional English boarding school, facing the occasional bit of cultural confusion and even hostility, but the best part about her is just . . . her. Quiet and unassuming when compared to her best friend, Daisy (more on her in a minute) but brave and noble too, as well as having more than sharp observational skills. And when someone's death has to be avenged, she puts aside her fear. That's why I love Hazel Wong.

And then there's Daisy. She just doesn't have any fear. Headstrong and sometimes oblivious to the people around her, she has a tendency to sideline Hazel however much she cares for her, and just assume her friends will do what she says. This dynamic makes their relationship one of the most realistic I've read, and the way it keeps changing has kept me glued to the entire series (so far, there may be more).

Add this and some incredibly well-defined secondary characters (including their dorm-mates, Lavinia, Kitty, and Beanie, who all have separate personalities and fears) to the uniquely vivid melting pot that is a 1920s boarding school, and you have an exceptionally gripping series. It simply stinks of gym floor polish and hockey sticks and midnight feasts - I've heard people call it Agatha Christie inside Malory Towers, and that is an excellent comparison.

The plots are interesting, too, even if I have been known to guess the occasional clue a few pages before Wells & Wong. It didn't seem to matter. I was still really interested, and it was less 'oh, they're being stupid' and more 'oh, they don't know! What's going to happen next?'. I'm usually so gripped by each book that I read it in one sitting, pretty much.

Here's some more about each of the books (I wrote the summaries myself, so I hope you like them):

Murder Most Unladylike

Miss Hazel Wong and the Honourable Daisy Wells might be the most unlikely of friends, but when their science mistress is pushed off a balcony, timid Hazel is dragged into Deepdean School for Girls' most unlikely detective partnership, as they work out which of their teachers must also be a murderer.

What makes these girls such interesting detectives is that their investigations are constantly being derailed, by nosy teachers or time lost to lessons or even the dreaded School Rules: it feels like a much more realistic and sympathetic situation than in some stories, when the younger characters are left to run riot so much you wonder if their guardians are really responsible enough. Here, the limitations of being a child were very clear plot points, and when you add a plot with more twists and turns than a twisty turny thing (more suspects too), it's an absolutely gripping recipe.

Arsenic For Tea

Murder strikes too close for comfort when Hazel's at Daisy's estate for the Easter hols, leaving half of the Wells family suspect and digging up family secret after family secret . . . can Daisy betray her loved ones to solve the case?

It might make me a little bit mean, but in a way I loved watching Daisy's perfect façade crumble in this book - it helped me understand and sympathise with her so much that it was almost worth the pain it put her through. I might have missed Deepdean if it weren't for Fallingford, a setting just as deep and interesting - in fact the only thing I disliked was who the murderer was. Having favourite secondary characters really is a drag sometimes.

First Class Murder

Hazel's father takes the girls on what he thinks will be a completely safe, educational trip on the Orient Express, far away from any murder. Clearly, he hadn't factored in a whole bunch of interesting characters and a maid who's willing to get Wells & Wong the information they need - or read any Agatha Christie.

Somehow - and someone needs to tell me how she did this - Stevens has managed to set a classic era detective novel on the Orient Express and make it feel completely original. Maybe it was the constant references to Agatha Christie's book, the characters' disbelief that it could happen 'IRL', but it worked.

Wells & Wong also got to meet another junior detective - you can imagine how Daisy feels about that, but it isn't rosy - and it was fascinating to discover more about Hazel, her father and her upbringing in general.

Jolly Foul Play

Back at Deepdean, half the old teachers have been arrested or killed, and the new Head Girl's reign of terror is infecting the whole school. But no-one expected it to end with a firework display, a bloodied rake, and her five prefects as suspects.

I think most of what I love about this series is that Stevens' masterful characters become deeper and deeper the more I read about them, and she slowly reveals more about even the side characters until I feel I know them. This time round, I got to hear more about Kitty, Lavinia and Beanie, to understand why Lavinia can be beastly and Kitty gets so annoyed at her sister, and it was awesome.

In the comments:  What did YOU think, if you've read the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries? Can you recommend anything similar to fuel my Hazel-esque detectives obsession? And which other series would you like to see me review?
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  1. This sounds INCREDIBLE, just went to my TBR. Thanks :D

    1. You're so welcome! I'm glad I could introduce this to you and I really hope you enjoy it.


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