Jolly Foul Play
By Robin Stevens
Published by Puffin
ISBN 978 0 141 36969 3
You can’t keep a good storyteller down, and we offer no excuses for spotlighting the fourth Robin Stevens’ Murder Most Unladylike mystery as our book of the week just three months after featuring Stevens’ third adventure in the series back in August.
Stevens is on to a winning roll with her detective story whodunits set in Deepdean School for Girls in the 1930s. Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, Stevens’ fourth-form sleuths, are a pair of well-drawn characters, and Hazel’s narrative voice draws readers easily in the mystery as it unfolds and races towards the big reveal in the final pages.
It’s the middle of the Autumn Term at Deepdean, and things are not going well for a lot of the junior girls. There’s a new Head Girl, Elizabeth Hurst, who is using her position to bully and humiliate the girls in the lower years. And there is a new team of senior prefects, who do exactly as the Head Girl tells them. Tensions are running high with this unpleasant regime in power. The Head Mistress and staff at the school don’t seem to notice that there is anything wrong. But there is!
Things come to a head on Bonfire Night, the celebration observed in Great Britain on November 5 each year to remember the arrest of Guy Fawkes and his fellow plotters back in 1605 when they tried – and failed – to blow up the Houses of Parliament in London. The girls at Deepdean are enjoying a bonfire and setting off fireworks, like thousands of other youngsters all over the UK.
But in the middle of the bonfire party, the much hated Elizabeth Hurst is found dead, seemingly the victim of an accident when she must have suddenly stood on a garden rake that flew up and knocked her on the head. A few days after Elizabeth’s death, notes are found in her handwriting revealing dark secrets about a handful of Deepdean pupils. Who is spreading these notes, and where have they got them from?
Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, schoolgirl detectives extraordinaire, are convinced that one of the school’s five senior prefects is the murderer. Daisy and Hazel soon discover that each of five has a secret that would have put them in a very difficult position should they have been exposed by Elizabeth. Each of the five girls has the perfect motive for bumping off the Head Girl. Wells and Wong spring into action to slowly track down the gym-slip killer.
Jolly Foul Play is a clever and entertaining mash-up of two classic genres of novel - the school story and the detective mystery. In the capable hands of Stevens, everything works very well. Her Murder Most Unladylike stories will lead many a young reader onto the crime novels of Agatha Christie, and then, perhaps, onto popular more convoluted and sensational whodunits.
Stevens is writing about a long-gone age in this popular series of stories, but that doesn’t mean that there is anything old-fashioned about them. All the thrills, suspense and plot twists are there to keep modern young readers glued to the page and turn them into devoted Wells and Wong fans. Agatha Christie may be the Queen of Crime, but Stevens is fast becoming the Queen of Junior Crime. Long may she reign!
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com