Top Marks For Murder by Robin Stevens

The Blurb On The Back:

Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are back at Deepdean School for Girls, where plans are underway for a most exciting event: the Anniversary Weekend.

But as parents arrive at Deepdean, LONG-BURIED RIVALRIES AND SECRETS begin to surface.  Then a shocking incident takes place in the woods.  The girls are convinced THIS IS MURDER – and everything points to one of the parents.

And unless the killer is caught, DEEPDEAN WILL CLOSE FOREVER.

You can order Top Marks For Murder by Robin Stevens from Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 4th July 1936, 2 weeks after DEATH IN THE SPOTLIGHT.  

Summer term has already begun at Deepdean School when Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong return and both feel oddly out of place.  For starters, Daisy has been displaced as pre-eminent Fourth Former by newcomer Amina El Maghrabi from Egypt, whose gift for pranks and gracious behaviour to the shrimps means that even the Marys have transferred their devotion to her.  Plus the girls’ late return means that Daisy’s lost her place on the equestrian team and has entirely lost out on any involvement in the school’s preparation for its 50th Anniversary weekend, to which various parents, relatives and school signatories are invited.

Everything changes during the Anniversary weekend when Beanie thinks she’s seen a man murder a woman in the nearby woods.  With the help of fellow Detective Society members Lavinia, Beanie and Kitty, Daisy and Hazel rush to the woods to investigate but while they find evidence that something happened in the woods and that it involves visitors to the Anniversary weekend, they can’t find a body and not even the support of Inspector Priestly will get the local police to take them seriously.  Then there’s another murder, one that strikes at the heart of Deepdean and threatens to see it closed forever unless Daisy and Hazel can find the killer and bring them to justice …

The 8th book in Robin Stevens’s crime mystery series for readers aged 9+ is another cunning mystery filled with red herrings and clever twists.  Daisy and Hazel’s characters and relationship are developed further and depth is given to Lavinia and Beanie but with all the students and parents at Deepdean I sometimes struggled to keep track of who was who although that is a minor quibble given how tightly this is plotted and how fast it moves.

This is the 3rd time the MURDER MOST UNLADYLIKE MYSTERIES has visited Deepdean and, for me, it’s the most interesting.  Stevens cleverly shows how the girls’ adventures have affected them so that while they are slowly outgrowing Deepdean, the school and its students have equally moved on without them.  I particularly enjoyed the effect this has on the narcissistic Daisy who is so used to being the centre of everyone’s universe that she’s more than a little put out to find that Amina has supplanted her.  Also good is the more empathic Hazel, who realises what her friend is going through and is keen to find a way to improve things for her and while she doesn’t want the proud Daisy to know, Daisy nevertheless does.  There’s a particularly lovely moment where Daisy wonders if Hazel is actually the hero of the story before discounting it as absurd.

Also good is the character development of Lavinia and Beanie (my favourite of the other Detective Society members) as we see more of their parents and their relationship with them.  In Beanie’s case, her mother’s worsening health is a source of upset and Stevens does a great job of showing how the other girls rally around her while Lavinia is unable to cope with her new stepmother (who is much younger than her father).  However there are a lot of characters in this book because of all the parents and dignitaries attending the Anniversary event and at times I did have to cross-refer back to the character chart to work out who was who.  The other consequence is that with so many characters, the victim didn’t make enough of an impact for me and while I enjoyed how Stevens tied in the latest death with Deepdean’s previous form for murder as serious grounds for its closure, I still wanted a more personal connection than what was on the page. 

The mystery is very well done with a premise that reminded me a little of THE 4:50 FROM PADDINGTON.  There are plenty of twists and turns to it and I liked how Hazel convinces Daisy that they need the support of Inspector Priestley if they’re to uncover what’s happened as he forms a neat, laconic foil to Daisy’s sense of self-importance without undercutting her.  Stevens also spreads the detective laurels equally between the various members of The Detective Society with each member making a valuable contribution.  If I had a complaint then it was that the ending has devastating consequences for one of the characters but that really only gets recognised by Hazel.

For all this though, I do really enjoy these books – they’re clever, have great period detail and really show Stevens’s love of Golden Age Detective novels while Daisy and Hazel are excellent detectives with a unique point of view.  There’s only one more book in this series and I am really going to miss them when it’s over.

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