Reviewing Robin Steven’s Mistletoe and Murder

Mistletoe and Murder is the latest in Robin Stevens’ excellent A Murder Most Unladylike series of books. The Detective Society made up of Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells are back. They are spending their Christmas holidays in Camberidge with Daisy’s older brother Bertie. When the two of them learn about a series of ‘accidents’ plaguing one of Bertie’s friends AND discover that this friend is also heir to a massive fortune he is set to inherit on Christmas day…Daisy and Hazel start to wonder if there is something more nefarious going on.

Of course there is. Also suspecting the worst are a rival detective gang, made up of two American boys (and characters we met in the previous books). When tragedy strikes the four of them decide to put differences aside and work together to solve the mystery.

I have been in love with the Murder Most Unladylike series since I listened to the first book (narrated by Gemma Chan) last year. Mistletoe and Murder is the latest in this perfect series and one of my favourites. Robin Stevens has such a way of capturing history and place in her books. Her Cambridge in 1935 is full of historical details and wonderful insights. Both Daisy and Hazel are staying in the college of St Lucy’s – one of the women-only colleges. Consistently throughout the book we are taught about the lack of opportunity there was for women. They could study, but not get a degree. They can work harder than their male counterparts and still get marked less. They don’t get the respect or reward they deserve for their hard work or skill.

This book is the fifth in the series and the girls have gone from being children to teenagers. Up until now one of the biggest obstacles to their detecting has been their age – children don’t have the freedom of adults to wander freely. In Mistletoe and Murder  they are older, freer, and also more aware of how weighted the world is against the.  At one point Hazel, who always wanted to go to university after hearing her father’s own experiences in Cambridge, questions why she should when she wouldn’t leave with a degree anyway.  In 1935 education is rewarded but only if you are of the ‘right’ gender. In Mistletoe and Murder I think Robin Stevens captures that so perfectly.

Hazel Wong is a woman of colour in 1935. In the previous books she has gone from being a novelty to being accepted in her boarding school. In Cambridge she one again goes back to being the novelty – especially by one character – even though Cambridge has more diversity than her boarding school. In the university we met another Chinese immigrant and two Indian-British bothers. Other novels set in this time in Britain seem to forget about diversity and immigration: usually all their characters are white. With Mistletoe and Murder not only do we encounter and meet ethnically diverse characters but we learn about some of their struggles in 1935 England.

As one point PoC character became a suspect and when Hazel explained to (the white) Daisy and Alexander why accusing him would ruin his life in a way accusing a white suspect wouldn’t, I couldn’t help but think how topical this book actually is. And that made me quite sad – a book set in 1935 is still topical in term of race relations with the way things are now in 2016.

As always the murder mystery itself was fun, clever, and gripping. This is a series of books with a target age range of much (much) younger than my own. However Robin Stevens has written a series of books which are incredibly accessible. I don’t find it at all a hindrance or annoyance that I am not the target demographic. Mistletoe and Murder has an ending I love and one I really didn’t guess though the breadcrumb type clues were all there.

As Daisy and Hazel get stuck in deeper with solving the case, another side effect (‘result’ might be a better word) of their growing up comes into focus: their romantic interest in boys. Or, in the case of one of them, their lack of romantic interest. I am very curious to see what will happen in subsequent books (because YES this isn’t the last in the series).

This is such a brilliant Christmas read with timely themes and a great murder mystery tying it all together. Both Hazel and Daisy are engaging and wonderful characters – I can’t wait to see what happens to them next.

Murder and Mistletoe by Robin Stevens is published by Puffin and available from all good and evil retailers now.

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