The Blurb On The Back:
As soon as she saw the school, Justice Jones knew that it had potential for murder.
She kept this to herself, of course. The taxi driver could easily be a spy.
Meet Justice Jones: super-smart by day, super-sleuth by night, she’s always on the lookout for mystery.
And on her first day at boarding school, it’s clear there is plenty of investigating to do: Why do blondes rule the corridors? Who made the uniform such a charming shade of brown? And do teachers normally hide dangerous secrets about the murder of a chamber maid?
When a deadly snow storm cuts everyone off from the outside world, the body count starts to rise. Can Justice find the killer – before it’s too late?
The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s 9th October 1936. 12-year-old Justice Jones has just arrived at Highbury House Boarding School For the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Her mother, a successful novelist, died a month earlier and her father (an eminent barrister famous for defending suspected murderers) has sent her to school as he thinks it’s the best place for her, even though Justice (who has never been to school before as her mother used to teach her at home) disagrees. But she soon cheers up when she discovers that shortly before her arrival one of the maids – Mary – died under mysterious circumstances and the teachers have instructed the girls not to talk about it.
As Justice tries to adjust to school life with its terrible food and lack of heating – navigating the hostility of the posh Rose and making friends with Stella, a scholarship girl and Dorothy, one of the maids – she decides to look into Mary’s death. Unfortunately there’s a frustrating lack of clues and the headmistress, the formidable Miss de Vere, is very insistent that nothing sinister behind it. But when Miss Thomas, the games mistress, is found dead after a snow storm that cuts the school off from the outside world, Justice is certain that something very wrong is going on and that there’s a killer on the loose who needs to be stopped …
Acclaimed crime novelist Elly Griffiths’s first mystery for children aged 9+ (the first in a series) is an entertaining addition to the trend for boarding school detectives but includes characters from less privileged backgrounds and although I thought that the mystery lacked cohesion and pace in parts, Griffiths creates a good sense of menace and anxiety as the girls are snowed in while winking at the conventions of the boarding school genre.
Justice is a spirited detective, mourning the death of her mother and a little bemused by the expectations and conventions of boarding school life. I enjoyed her misunderstandings with teachers and the other girls but at the same time she makes some astute observations about things like the pecking order and what’s really going on between some of the girls. Griffiths gives her a taste for charging into danger that is believable (and works well with Dorothy and Stella’s more reticent approach, driven by their knowledge of what they can lose if she’s caught breaking the rules) and I liked how while Justice is good at some subjects, she’s terrible at others – especially lacrosse – which means she’s constantly at risk of being rejected by the others. I was less convinced by references to Justice’s home life though – notably references to a character called Peter who makes no appearance within the book and didn’t really serve much of a purpose beyond a single plot point that could have been addressed by other means. No doubt that he will appear in later books in the series but here he was surplus to requirements, especially given the already wide cast.
The mystery itself is a bit of hotch potch affair and until Miss Thomas’s death, it lacks an urgency that in turn affects the pacing. That said, Griffiths does make the most of the idea of the girls and teachers being snowed in with the consequent affect that has on the sense of menace as gossip takes hold that Miss Thomas was murdered and the desire of the teachers to pass it off as an accident, which all helps build tension. Also good is how Griffiths nods at the traditions of boarding school books, such as playing lacrosse, the “pashes” that the younger girls get on older ones and all the cliques and funny terminology that get deployed at all times.
Certainly there was enough here to hold my attention until the end and I will definitely check out what happens to Justice in the next book.
A GIRL CALLED JUSTICE was released in the United Kingdom on 4th May 2019. Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.