I love murder mysteries and boarding school stories. Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens delivers brilliantly on both.
It is the 1930s and Deepdean School is a place where wealthy young ladies are sent for education and betterment. Hazel Wong is one such young lady. She is from Hong Kong, and her father sent her to England to be schooled because of his own enjoyable school boy day there. Soon after her arrival, Hazel is befriended by Daisy Wells the daughter of an English Lord. These two girls make up their own secret detective agency after Daisy spends a summer immersing herself in Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christy, and Dorothy Sayers. The girls content themselves with minor mysteries until one night Hazel stumbles on the dead body of their Science Mistress, Miss Bell. The body disappears mere minutes later. Now the girls have a murder to investigate with no body, multiple suspects, and few clues. In the days that follow, the girls uncover more secrets about their school and the people who reside their then they ever dreamed, but they also uncover some important truths about themselves.
Hazel and Daisy and their dynamic reminded me quite a lot of Ananka and Kiki in the Kiki Strike series. Daisy is the charismatic trickster who has her fingers in several different pies and agents to do her bidding. She pretends to be a very different person than she actually is in order to manipulate the people around her and get what she wants. Hazel is the controlled, steady, sensible one who relies more on book knowledge. She tells the girls' story as the secretary of the detective society. As the book is told from Hazel's first person perspective, I found myself sympathizing with her more. This is also due to her struggle to fit in and be seen as just one of the girls when she is from such a very different place. Hazel's desire to be just like everyone else and the way she belittles her different looks has a very realistic tone to it particularly for this historic time period. Her allusions to how the teachers view her culture and how inaccurate their view is, also lends a realism to her voice. Hazel is also the more cautious of the two girls and has far more common sense. In contrast Daisy comes across as impatient and obnoxious, often taking advantage of Hazel, belittling her, and not listening to sense when she ought. But she can also admit when she is wrong and humbles herself when it is needed. Together the girls make a great team. Daisy brings Hazel out of her shell, and Hazel forces Daisy to be more sensitive and thoughtful.
The mystery is exactly the sort I like. There are a lot of suspects, but they are limited to the people within the school. I was kept guessing and wondering, just as surprised by the girls at the outcome. The school itself is a great setting. It's a realistic look at the social strata, power plays, and politics of a such a school in the worlds of both the students and the adults.
I adored this first installment, and am looking forward to reading others in the series. The second book is out in the UK. I'm hoping it will follow here quickly.
I read an ARC provided by the publisher, Simon &Schuster Books for Young Readers, via Edelweiss. Murder is Bad Manners is on sale April 21st in the US. It is already available in the UK under the title Murder Most Unladylike.