Arsenic for Tea: Robin Stevens

★★★★

A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery: Book II

First off, a Happy New Year to one and all! I hope that 2017 brings you lots of exciting discoveries, wonderful stories and engaging discussions. For my own part, I kicked off the year with a self-indulgent treat: the second book in Robin Stevens’s schoolgirl detective series. You may remember that I was utterly charmed by Murder Most Unladylike and I was itching to see what Daisy and Hazel’s next case would be. It turns out that the sequel is no less delightful.

Deepdean School has been exceedingly dull since the events of Murder Most Unladylike, without the faintest hint of a crime worthy of the Detective Society’s involvement. Daisy Wells (the Society’s President) and her best friend Hazel Wong (Vice President and Secretary) head off to spend the Easter holidays at Daisy’s home, Fallingford. As Daisy’s birthday falls during the holidays, their dorm mates Kitty and Beanie are due to join them for a few days of fun, games and cake. Unfortunately, however, they aren’t the only visitors. In fact, Fallingford is practically bursting at the seams with guests: there’s Daisy’s big brother Bertie, home from Eton for the hols with his school chum Stephen; their enigmatic uncle Felix; their eccentric great-aunt Saskia; their frumpy new governess, Miss Alston; and, worst of all, Daisy’s mother’s new ‘friend’, a smug antiques expert named Mr Curtis.

Nobody seems to like Mr Curtis (except Daisy’s mother, Lady Hastings). Even so, it comes as a dreadful shock when he falls prey to a cup of tea laced with arsenic during Daisy’s birthday celebrations. As the rains hammer down on Fallingford, flooding the fields and preventing access to or from the house, the girls realise that they have a new case to solve. But this time things promise to be very grim indeed. Not only is there a dead body laid out in the spare bedroom, but they know that the murderer must have been one of the people at the tea party. With all the grown-ups behaving very strangely, and some unpleasant family secrets creeping out of the woodwork, Daisy and Hazel are faced with some very hard decisions.

This book takes on the classic country-house murder mystery and does so with great aplomb. I thought I might miss Deepdean, with its evocative hints of Blyton boarding schools, but in fact I enjoyed this sequel just as much as any Poirot mystery. As ever, the creation of atmosphere is just perfect, with the shabby house full of dogs and old dusty vases, the kitchens with their copper pans, the library, billiard room and nursery… Stevens’s handling of the upper-class mentality is also very fine: she always seems to be writing with a slight glint in her eye as she invites us, through Hazel’s baffled reportage, to witness her characters’ little absurdities.

Definitely a worthy follow-up to Murder Most Unladylike, this was a wonderful choice to open the year: a light spritz of adventure, served up with pluck and panache. And really, don’t be put off by the idea that it’s a children’s book. Stevens writes so well that she transcends such divisions. Put your preconceptions aside, join Daisy and Hazel, and treat yourself to a spot of old-school mystery.

Buy the book 

4 thoughts on “Arsenic for Tea: Robin Stevens

  1. Louise says:

    I agree. After your review of Murder Most Unladylike, I did a bit of a binge of the series and loved them. There’s definitely more there than simply school stories or whodunnits.

    • The Idle Woman says:

      Excellent! I’m glad I helped someone else get the bug 🙂 I’m really looking forward to reading more of the series in due course – I’m rationing myself, because (ironically, despite the subject) these are such comfort books that I don’t want to read them all in one go!

  2. Sandra says:

    Inspired by your earlier review, I dived straight into Mistletoe and Murder as part of my Christmas reading. Such fun! I shall be reading the series from the beginning before too long – and I’ll happily read M & M again in its rightful place 🙂

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