A Spoonful Of Murder by Robin Stevens

The Blurb On The Back:

”A terrible thing has happened, a thing that the Detective Society must investigate.  But this time I am not just a detective, I’m a witness.  And I think that I might even be a suspect …”

When Hazel Wong’s beloved grandfather passes away, Daisy Wells joins Hazel on a visit to her family’s estate in beautiful, bustling Hong Kong.

But they are greeted with a shock: there’s a new member of the Wong family!  As if that isn’t enough, tragedy soon strikes not once but twice.  There’s been a murder and a kidnap and no one is safe from suspicion … not even Hazel.

The girls must work together like never before, confronting dangerous gangs and sinister private detectives to solve the crimes and discover the villain – before it’s too late.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s February 1936, a couple of months after MISTLETOE AND MURDER.  Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are back at Deepdean School when Hazel gets a phone call from her father telling her that her beloved grandfather has died from natural causes.  Her father wants her to return to Hong Kong for the mourning period and Hazel insists that Daisy comes with her.

But when the girls finally arrive in Hong Kong, Hazel gets an unpleasant shock: her father’s second wife, Jie Jie has given birth to a baby boy – Teddy – and Hazel’s half-brother has taken her place as the most important child in the family.  He’s even taken Hazel’s favourite maid Su Li, who’s now behaving coldly towards Hazel.

While Hazel’s having difficulties adjusting to these changes, Daisy’s having difficulties adjusting to Hong Kong where she is regarded as less important than Hazel and she can’t understand any conversation in Cantonese.

When a trip to take Teddy for a check-up with his doctor results in Su-Li being murdered and Teddy kidnapped, both Hazel and Daisy know that they have to find those responsible.  The only problems are that Hazel is herself a suspect, the local Jung Wah (senior Chinese people in Hong Kong) have appointed the shrewd Detective Leung to find the killer and Hazel’s parents forbid her from getting involved because the local Triad gang is rumoured to be responsible …

The sixth in Robin Stevens’s crime series for children aged 9+ is probably the best yet combining another twisting mystery with great character development for both Hazel and Daisy (especially as we see more of Hazel’s family and her interaction with them) and a great location in 1930s Hong Kong that combines the Western and Chinese elements very well such that I’m already desperate to see what happens to the girls next.

Hazel is really the star of this book as the plot really revolves around her and her relationship with her family – especially her father, with whom she used to be very close before Teddy’s birth.  In some ways it’s a mirror of what we saw with Daisy’s family in ARSENIC FOR TEA but there’s a lot more emotional depth here as Hazel gets to tell us how she feels through her detective journal and her relationship with Su-Li is neatly depicted.  Also good is the way the relationship between Hazel and Daisy is flipped here – because Hazel’s father is so influential, Hazel is seen as more important plus she’s able to speak to most of the witnesses and suspects in Cantonese.  I really enjoyed Daisy’s discomfort and nervousness about this as it makes her more vulnerable and evens up the dynamic between them.

The mystery element is a novel take on a locked room mystery and there are plenty of twists and turns and red herrings.  The character of Ah Lan has a lot of potential (and I liked the way he’s as smart as the girls and knows more about the household goings on) and I would love to see both him and the shrewd Detective Leong return in future books.  If I have a criticism then it’s that the Triad element is perhaps a little too romanticised given their real life activities but it’s not enough to detract from what is a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

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