Arsenic For Tea
By Robin Stevens
Published by Corgi / Random House Children's
ISBN 978 0 552 57073 2
You wouldn't expect a deadly poison to be served at tea time alongside the cupcakes and cucumber sandwiches. But in Robin Stevens' latest case for the schoolgirl detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, there's arsenic on the menu.
Arsenic for Tea is the highly entertaining sequel to A Murder Most Unladylike, last year's debut case for the Detective Society the girls set up at Deepdean School. Stevens has hit on an intriguing formula for this promising series for younger teen readers.
Mixing the traditional 1930s girls boarding school romp with the golden age detective story perfected by writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, Stevens' Wells and Wong Mysteries offer a great deal of retro reading pleasure.
But Stevens is an enthusiastic and persuasive writer and she easily transports readers back to pre-war England. This is one series that happily doesn't look as if it is going to run out of steam for a while.
Hazel is spending her summer holiday at Fallingford, the Wells ancestral home. Also in attendance are Daisy's parents, Lord and Lady Hastings, and other family members and friends who are there to celebrate Daisy's 14th birthday.
Hazel is feeling homesick for Hong Kong - but events take a dramatic turn that makes her forget about not fitting in with Daisy's upper-class family. A late addition to the party shows up, a friend of Lady Hastings called Denis Curtis.
No one is sure why he's there, but it isn't long before he's got the whole family arguing. Daisy suspects that Denis is trying to trick her gullible mother into selling some of the family works of art - he has "dodgy" written all over him.
Daisy's birthday party begins, and all the guests assemble in the dining room. The doors are closed, and outside a rainstorm breaks. And, as you may have guessed, it isn't long before one of the guests drops dead, a victim of arsenic slipped into a cup of tea.
Outside, the storm worsens, delaying the arrival of the police, but fortunately Wells and Wong are on hand. As they gather evidence, dark secrets begin to emerge. All the adults in the house seem to have something to hide, and one is a killer. Can Daisy and Hazel unmask them before they strike again?
Murder most foul - and most English - the second case for Wells and Wong is as irresistible and entertaining as the first. Just the thing to devour with a pot of tea and a plate of scones.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com