Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens
Published by Puffin

IN my time writing this column, growing up as a reader, and recommending books for the adults I meet to gift the children in their lives, I have developed a rule to apply. It is to always gift the stories which are told with an admiration and understanding of the intelligence and imagination of children.

Children are open to learning and enjoying a clever plot in ways that it’s hard to remember once we get older.

The sense of excitement in finding your first favourite book series (Murder Most Unladylike being an excellent candidate for this role) is unforgettable.

It is the authors behind trusted and likeable narrators that I have – and will always – recommend.

Quick-witted and fun writers such as Lemony Snicket and Rick Riordan come to mind, alongside the 11-book series of engaging mysteries by Robin Stevens, with those memorable main characters – Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells.

The first book of the spin-off series following Hazel’s little sister May is now out, with a second to come late this year, and so a new group of young people have the opportunity to become engrossed in Stevens’ work.

In the tradition of exciting fictional boarding schools, Deepdean School for Girls is like no other.

In 1930s England, Hazel Wong, the main narrator of the story is a quiet and kindhearted girl, with a shyness only expelled by her unlikely best friend Daisy Wells.

Daisy is confident and bold but lacking in the demure sweetness expected of a young girl, very rarely showing her soft side and then only to Hazel.

What the two do have in common, however, is being the smartest girls at their school and so, with only two founding members, they begin Wells And Wong Detective Society, with Hazel documenting their deductions. The last thing she expects, however, is for a real case to appear at their very own school when she finds the body of their science teacher in the gymnasium.

After running away to tell Daisy and other students, she returns to find the body has gone missing. Only Daisy believes her and they realise they must work to discover what happened and who is responsible.

The pair rely on each other to get through every intellectual and emotional challenge they come up against.

The contrasting characters of Hazel and Daisy never once seem odd together, and instead the development of their friendship and bonding brought by this first big mystery provides a solid foundation for every book in the series.

Daisy teaches Hazel to be more assertive, while Daisy softens just enough to grow to always let her best friend in.

Not only are these the perfect precursor to a love of beautifully executed genre conventions such as Agatha Christie, they remember one vital tool as they trick the adults around them – that everyone underestimates girls …