Death in the Spotlight, book eight in the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries

I’m not a big murder mystery fan…I have a friend who inhales Poirot novels like oxygen and I think my gran has actually borrowed every detective novel ever published from the library but I’ve never really seen the big deal myself. Robin Steven’s Death in the Spotlight has given me a wake-up call.

The whole point of murder mysteries is that the reader can try to guess the killer from subtle clues hidden throughout the text yet the real plot twist is something that they’ve never considered. I’m obviously trying to not give away any spoilers because that would utterly ruin the entire book, but I can say that it fulfils this goal: I was trying to spot the killer from the beginning but was still caught off guard. I’m a few years older than the target audience but the facts in the case that you can base your theories upon are not too complicated for the intended readers and not so easy that they are instantly guessable for older ones who might be reading it as a bedtime story (although I wouldn’t really advocate it as a book for immediately before sleep as it’s pretty riveting and will likely get most listeners waiting up at night to ‘catch the killer’).

Death in the Spotlight is the eighth book in the ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ series and, to my shame, I’m afraid that I haven’t read the first seven. Nonetheless, I loved the two energetic and clever girls as the central protagonists straight away; Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong. Daisy is the President of the ‘Detective Society’ and a proficient actress, mistress of disguise and fearless investigator; she’s rather more eager to explore crime scenes, complete with dead bodies, than Hazel and often has to chivvy her a little. Hazel meanwhile is the narrator as the Vice-President and, importantly, Secretary of the Detective Society and apparently writes down all their adventures. She isn’t short of a few detective skills herself, as she writes letters in invisible ink, spies on suspect interrogations and even goes on a solo mission in London herself. Evidently, despite being the more squeamish of the two, she isn’t short on courage.

It’s a very refreshing take on the murder mystery genre, reinvented for a young, modern generation: two amateur schoolgirls with a Sherlock dynamic solving murders in an Agatha Christie plot style. Daisy’s nickname for Hazel is even ‘Watson’! It has a modern approach to important issues too; racism, sexuality and feminism are handled sensitively and with respect in such a way that it seems to encourage its readers to think about them, but in a positive light. Books like this one pave the way to a love and celebration of diversity.

I must admit, I had a difficult time placing the period for most of the book until I remembered to look at the ‘extra stuff’, like maps, floor plans and character lists, at the beginning (turns out the book is set 1936), but that was my own mistake and I really have no qualms about any aspects of the novel. The setting was particularly immersive while the plot was, of course, a page-turner like any good mystery should be (I neglected tidying my room to read it – whoops). I’d really like to go back and read the first seven of the series now!

School Shorts #5, short story project with Robin Stevens

Death in the Spotlight, 4pm Sat 27 April ACE Centre