This week’s BotW is the latest Wells and Wong mystery, A Spoonful of Murder, which makes three mystery books in a row, but I don’t see a problem with that. The only surprise here is that I managed to pace myself and take two and a half weeks to read this, rather than glomming it on the day it came out, which is what I usually do and what nearly happened.
Anyway, this is the sixth instalment in the Wells and Wong series and sees Hazel sent for by her father after the death of her grandfather. Hazel heads back home to Hong Kong, accompanied by Daisy for moral support. And she needs the support when she gets home and discovers that more has changed than just the death of her beloved Ah Yeh. As always with this series, the mystery is clever, the action is fast-paced and you just keep turning the pages. The stories are getting more mature as we go through the series – not unlike the Harry Potter books did – so the murder is a little bit more gruesome, the girls see a little bit more and are in a bit more danger, but there’s nothing here that should give a middle grader nightmares. Or at least not in the way that I scared myself with Miss Marple books when I was about 10 any way.
The big change in this book from the others, is that although we are still seeing the action through Hazel’s eyes, for once it is Daisy who is the fish-out-of-water and Hazel is on her home turf. One of the things that I have always loved about this series is the way that it takes classic boarding school stories and adds in new layers and gives you a different viewpoint. The reader has always been aware that Hazel is seen as an outsider and that she doesn’t always know how things work in Britain, but it’s only really in this book, where Hazel is back at home and Daisy is her guest that you really realise how different her life is at home and how much she’s had to adapt to be accepted in England. The way that you see Daisy struggle to work out a world she doesn’t understand and to figure out where she fits in and accept (well sort of) that here she isn’t seen as important the way she is in Britain is so cleverly done. Daisy is still Daisy, but she’s realising that there’s more to Hazel’s life than she thought and that she has hidden skills that Daisy hadn’t appreciated. And this is all done without meanness or cruelty and seamlessly with everything that we already know about the two girls.
And there’s obviously been a huge amount of research done into this. The picture that Robin Stevens paints of high society in interwar Hong Kong in this feels grounded in research and facts, but it wears it very lightly. I came away wanting to know more about Hong Kong’s history and what it was like as well as wanting to read more books set there. It worked for me on every level – it’s a great mystery, with great characters and a great setting that just happens to be aimed at 8 to 11 year olds. Perfect. And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you liked St Clares or Mallory Towers or (my beloved) Chalet School when you were little and like Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime authors – then you should read this. And if you have a middle grader in your house, this makes a great chapter book to read with them. It has maps and everything.
You should be able to get this from any bookshop with a children’s section and I’ve seen them in the supermarkets too. For best effect, start at the beginning with Murder Most Unladylike, especially if you’re giving to a child at the younger end of the age spectrum as it’s less for them to cope with on the death and violence spectrum.