'A Spoonful of Murder' takes popular 'Murder Most Unladylike' series to 1930s HK [Review]

Protagonists Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells head to HK and must solve another horrendous murder

John Millen |

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A Spoonful of Murder

By Robin Stevens

Published by Puffin

ISBN 978 0 141 37378 2

What is the tastiest way of serving up a murder? With a cup of Earl Grey and a plate of scones à la English afternoon tea, or with a selection of dim sum, Hong Kong-style?

Robin Stevens’ boarding school detective mysteries have so far been set firmly in the former territory, but now with A Spoonful of Murder, Stevens shifts the action to 1930s Hong Kong.

It’s a brave move. Stevens has spent time in Hong Kong and done meticulous research. Whether she successfully paints a picture of old colonial Hong Kong is for her local readers to decide. But one thing is certain: a tantalising mystery awaits Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong when they leave their school in English countryside and arrive in the bustling city.

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Hazel’s family lives in Hong Kong, and when her grandfather dies, she is summoned back home to be part of the mourning. Daisy Wells – best friend and President of the Detective Society – comes too, to be by her friend’s side at this sad time.

But when the intrepid duo arrive in Hong Kong, there is a big change in the Wong family. Hazel discovers she has a new baby brother, and no one has thought it worth the trouble to tell her.

Baby Teddy’s arrival has upended relationships within the family. The baby boy has pushed Hazel and her two younger sisters down the importance ladder, and the power dynamic between Hazel’s mother (Mr Wong’s first wife), and Teddy’s mother (his second wife) have shifted. But worse is yet to come.

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During a visit to the doctor, baby Teddy is kidnapped and his nanny is brutally murdered. With Hazel’s whole family in a state of panic and chaos, she and Daisy have their work cut out solving this mystery.

Stevens doesn’t short-change her readers by misdirecting them as they story unfolds. All the clues are there, and Hazel and Daisy work through them painstakingly. And, as usual, there is a professional crime-solver on hand who is no match for Hazel and Daisy.

This is the sixth Detective Society instalment, and the move to Hong Kong gives the series a new lease of life. It also puts Hazel, rather than Daisy, at the centre of the action, and this is refreshing.

Much of the pleasure of reading a whodunnit rests on the reveal of the murderer in the closing pages, and Stevens doesn’t disappoint when this moment comes. A Spoonful of Murder is another great read in a series that always delivers the goods.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]