I read the first book in this series, Murder Most Unladylike before its release in 2014 and reviewed it here. I was very enthusiastic about Daisy Wells, Hazel Wong and their Detective Agency at Deepdean School and wasn’t alone in my appreciation. The book was such a success that four more have followed already, plus two Mini Mysteries. The series is published by Puffin, so the stories are intended for young readers but they can be enjoyed by people of any age, especially if they happen to be aficionados of school stories. I’ve at last partly caught up with the series, having just read the second book, Arsenic for Tea and the fourth, Jolly Foul Play.
With some detective series, I feel as I do about sitcoms: that the action should not move outside the prime location. For example, I like Sidney Chambers to be in Cambridge, not gadding about elsewhere. There is a limit to the number of murders which can take place in a school, though, so it’s reasonable that Robin Stevens uses other, traditional, mystery settings as well as Deepdean. The third adventure, First Class Murder, apparently takes place on the Orient Express. I’ve missed that one. Arsenic for Tea is a country house mystery set in Daisy’s family home, Fallingford. An unpleasant guest dies; Daisy, Hazel and their school friends Kitty and Beany are convinced it’s murder. The problem is that all the evidence points to Daisy’s father, Lord Hastings, as the murderer. Usually so rigorous, on this occasion Daisy is in denial about the facts. So she’s not infallible after all, as clever Hazel already knows. Needless to say, the girls do solve the case but it doesn’t make any of them happy. Victims, however nasty, were real people, murderers will hang and it’s as well to be aware of these unpleasant truths.
It’s back to Deepdean for Jolly Foul Play. After the horrors of book one, the school has seen many changes. There’s a new headmistress, new members of staff, and the school is run by a terrifying head girl and her gang of five prefects, who bully and punish the younger girls at will. During a fireworks party, the head girl is found dead. The headmistress and staff take this to be an accident but of course it wasn’t. Where is the detective agency to start? Elizabeth was so unpopular that any number of people might have wished her dead. The added complication in this book is that Daisy and Hazel fall out, which is miserable for both of them. One of the good things about this series is the way the girls’ characters grow from book to book. Hazel, who narrates each episode, feels that she has changed more than Daisy has. She knows that Daisy is autocratic, capricious and ruthless but still, there’s no one like her. Hazel comes over as nicer but without Daisy’s furious energy and intelligence, nothing would happen.
Robin Stevens says she’s been surprised by her sudden wild success. She deserves it.