Book review

First Class Murder by Robin Stevens (2015)

Part 3 of the Murder Most Unladylike Mysteries

Do you think you would make a good detective? You’ll need nerves of steel:

‘Oh, hello, Dr Sandwich, Jocelyn,’ said Alexander, quite calmly, from above us. I stared at his shiny shoes in a turmoil. Although we were quite hidden by the white starchy fall of the tablecloth around us, I felt as exposed as if I had been served up on a platter. We were trapped like mice in a cage -

You must be methodical and determined:

Daisy butted her head against my shoulder, and I looked round at her in the gloom. She was making a face at me, and wriggling her fingers – it took me a moment to understand that she meant me to take notes. That is Daisy through and through: whatever bind we are in, she has to keep on detecting.

And you must be logical and impartial:

‘So, if you were planning a murder, wouldn’t you try to shift suspicion away from you, onto someone else?’
I nodded again, suddenly understanding where she was going.
‘And part of that would be to drop false clues, wouldn’t it? So we must assume that at least some of the things we’ve found were meant to be discovered. They’re not real, they’re only red herrings. So, how are we to know which is which?

That’s the tricky bit, sorting out the red herrings. In this book Daisy and Hazel face up to their first locked-room murder mystery. They’re on holiday on the luxury Orient Express steaming across Europe. The train is packed full with suspicious characters...irritable Russian countess, fraudulent lady medium, mysterious travelling magician, wealthy Mr and Mrs Daunt of Daunt’s Diet’ll get to meet them all and you’ll soon see that they all have something to hide. There is definitely treachery afoot...somewhere on board is a spy taking British secrets out of the country. We know that because the spycatcher is a friend of Daisy’s family. Suddenly there is a bloodcurdling scream from the sleeping compartments. We all burst in through the locked door and gather round. There is one very dead body and a hugely valuable ruby necklace has gone missing. Fortunately, maybe, there are several amateur sleuths on board ready to swing into action...

But it doesn’t do to overlook the Wells and Wong Detective Society. They’ve solved murders most unladylike before, and they can do it again. The only question is whether they can solve it before the train gets in to Belgrade and before the wrong suspect is carted off to prison.

I think you’ll love this story. It’s a boarding school friendship adventure like Harry Potter but without the magic. Instead you get some snappy detective work Agatha Christie style, all set in 1935 or thereabouts. And there is always time for a bunbreak:

Mrs Vitellius leaned forward and took the plumpest, creamiest cake, absolutely oozing with jam. ‘Go on, girls,’ she said, winking at us. ‘I know how you like your bunbreaks.’
‘Is this a trick?’ asked Daisy, folding her arms.

You’ll have to read it if you want to know for sure.

What can I read next?

It’s a series and although each murder mystery does stand alone they are still in sequence and it’s best to start at the beginning:

  • Murder Most Unladylike
  • Arsenic for Tea
  • First Class Murder
  • Jolly Foul Play

I think there used to be more child sleuths about in the olden days. If you really enjoy this series you could have a rummage around ‘detective style’ on some old family bookshelves. You might come across some well loved Enid Blyton Malory Towers books or some Adventure series titles, or perhaps some Famous Five or Secret Seven titles. You’ll find them hilariously old fashioned and you’ll see how clever Robin Stevens has been bringing her stories up to date and making them right for right now. You can of course buy new editions of the old Enid Blyton favourites, but beware, they’ve changed the language – updated it for modern children. You could try reading both versions of the same story and see what you think. Here are some Enid Blyton titles to get you going:

  • First Term at Malory Towers
  • The Island of Adventure
  • Five on a Treasure Island

For some modern style detective work you could have a look at the Young Detective Agency series by Joss Stirling:

Or perhaps this gruesome one by Chris Priestley is more up your street:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

First Class Murder features in these lists: