Oh I do love a good children’s detective yarn – and I had two to pick from when I was selecting my BotW this week. I went with Julia Lee’s latest – because it’s out on Thursday and doesn’t feature any murder – so I think I can give it to my 7-year-old niece who has the right reading age, but who can’t cope with too much peril!
Nancy Parker is 14 and has just left school. She gets her first job – as a housemaid to the rather glamorous Mrs Bryce. It’s not her dream job (who dreams of cleaning at 14!), but its more exciting than she expects as soon the whole household is living in a rented house at the seaside. There are parties, talk of movie-making, a reputed air-ace but also a cook who seems to be hiding a secret, a string of burglaries and chores – lots of chores. Nancy teams up with two other children from the neighbourhood to try and work out what is going on.
The book made up of a combination of extracts from Nancy’s journal (given to her as a leaving gift by her school teacher) and a third person narrative – which covers what the other children are up to. It’s fun, engaging and fast-paced. As someone who loved all of Enid Blyton’s mystery series (but particularly the Five Findouters) this really worked for me and filled that gap. And unlike those Blyton stories, this books shows the range of experiences in the 1920s – Nancy would only have appeared in one of those as the maid providing the picnics for the other children. And there’s also nice nods to the other realities of the 1920s like shortages of men for women to marry and women having to give up their jobs to returning soldiers.
As an adult, I figured out what Mrs Bryce was up to quite early on – but that’s because I’ve read a lot of the grown-up versions of this sort of story, but I think for a young reader it would be a fun, thrilling and non-threatening mystery. I love Robin Steven’s Wells and Wong series and also enjoyed the second book in Katherine Woodfine’s Clockwork Sparrowbook last week (the other BotW contender) but they are definitely a level up from this in the scares and peril – which isn’t a bad thing, but it does mean that you need to be bit more mature to be able to cope with them. I’m desperate to give my niece Murder Most Unladylike – but murder is quite a big deal for a 7-year old – at 10 I was terrified by some of the Miss Marples*. But Nancy Parker’s adventure feels like a new equivalent of a Secret Seven or a Famous Five – which is A Very Good Thing.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance proof – but you can get your copy from Amazon, Kindle, Waterstones or Foyles. I don’t know if it’ll be in the supermarkets – but it feels like it might as the Katherine Woodfine was. Happy Reading!