The Blurb On The Back:
The whole theatre seemed on edge.
There was a feverish atmosphere seeping into every corner of the Rue, as though the whole cast was sickening.
Daisy and I both knew that something was brewing.
Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are off to the beautiful Rue Theatre in London, where they will face an entirely new challenge: acting. But behind the theatre’s glittering façade, the girls soon realise that there is trouble at the Rue. Jealousy, threats and horrible pranks quickly spiral out of control – and then one of the cast is found dead.
As opening night looms closer, Hazel and Daisy must take centre stage and solve the crime – before the killer strikes again.
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The Review (Cut For Spoilers):
It’s 24thMay 1936, a few weeks after A SPOONFUL OF MURDER. 15-year-old Daisy Wells and 14-year-old Hazel Wong have finally landed back in England after their adventures in Hong Kong but their parents decide that they need a rest before returning to Deepdean and send them to stay with Daisy’s uncle, Felix Mountfitchet, who recently married their former governess, Lucy.
When Felix and Lucy find themselves needed urgently for work, Lucy arranges for the girls to help famed theatre owner and producer Frances Compton who needs some bit part performers to work in her production of Romeo and Juliet at the Rue Theatre after an outbreak of flu decimates her cast. Daisy is thrilled by the prospect of acting on the London stage but the idea of standing in front of hundreds of people fills Hazel with a sick horror.
Fortunately for Hazel, there’s plenty of intrigue backstage at the Rue Theatre to take her mind off it. Someone is playing some very nasty pranks on Rose Tree, the rising star playing the role of Juliet and there’s enough jealousy, infighting and old grudges to make for a wide cast of suspects when a dead body is found …
The 7th in Robin Stevens’s MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE SERIES for children aged 9+ is another well-plotted mystery filled with some devilish twists and great character development for Daisy and Hazel. I especially liked a key revelation about Daisy and her sexuality (which Stevens does well to contextualise in the time) but Hazel also gains a lot of confidence and self-awareness and I welcomes seeing Alexander and George again.
The plotting here is exquisite. Stevens does a great job of creating the different layers of the central mystery and, as always, Hazel provides the emotional response to the horror of finding a dead body and in analysing the motives of the remaining cast members while Daisy is focused on the intellectual aspect of the puzzle. Stevens makes great allusions to the drama of the theatre and to the Romeo & Juliet play in constructing the mystery, which adds great depth.
As Hazel is now 14 and Daisy 15, romance is raising its ugly head more. There’s more development here of Hazel’s feelings for Alexander and, for the first time, Daisy is shown as having a pash of her own on one of the actresses, which I thought was a great development, firstly because it shows that Daisy is not as devoid of feelings as she likes to make out but also because Stevens uses it to highlight the ridiculousness of homosexuality laws during the period. In fact, the book does a great job of showing Daisy as being more vulnerable here as she also gets sick enough to not want pudding (a disaster!), although this does mean that Hazel gets to step up and take the lead in the investigation, something that helps her confidence. Stevens also does well at taking on toxic masculinity and privilege here as well, through Lysander Tollington – a thoroughly nasty young man from a wealthy background who likes to brandish some faux leftist sentiments.
Uncle Felix is one of my favourite characters in the series, so I enjoyed his return here and especially how Lucy shows herself to be a match for him. Also good is the parallel that’s repeatedly drawn between Felix and Daisy and how their similar personalities make them prone to clash.
Ultimately, I think this is a smashing book in a really excellent series and it would be a shame if only children and teens read these books because there’s so much here for grown-ups to enjoy too.