A Girl Called Justice: The Ghost In The Garden by Elly Griffiths

The Blurb On The Back:

Super-smart by day, super-sleuth by night.

Justice Jones is on the case …

An intriguing new girl catches Justice’s attention this year.  Letitia has never been to school before and doesn’t care for the rules.  Mysteriously, the teachers don’t seem to mind!

Then, after a midnight feast in the barn, and a terrifying ghost-sighting in the garden, one of Justice’s friends disappears.  Justice has to investigate.  But why are the ransom notes torn from the pages of a crime novel?

Can Justice find the kidnapper – before it’s too late?

You can order A GIRL CALLED JUSTICE: THE GHOST IN THE GARDEN by Elly Griffiths from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s September 1937.

Justice Jones is about to start the third form at Highbury House Boarding School For The Daughters of Gentlefolk.  In truth, she never thought she’d make it to a new school year – not after her adventures in the last 12 months and especially not because of all her rule-breaking.  

The third year brings a new student – Letitia Blackstock – who has never been to boarding school before.  Headmistress, Miss de Vere, tasks Justice with taking Letitia under her wing but Justice soon discovers that the supremely confident Letitia does not really need support – she doesn’t seem to care about what people think about her or for Highbury’s traditions and rules.  She doesn’t even care when the Head Girl, Helena Bliss (who’s staying on for an extra term before heading for a Swiss finishing school), tries to put her in her place!

Justice doesn’t know what to make of Letitia and really just wants to hang out with her best friends Stella and Dorothy.  But Letitia seems intent on making Justice her partner in crime because she thinks that Justice is into playing pranks and breaking rules.  Letitia’s behaviour soon ruffles the feathers of the other Barnowls and drives a wedge between Justice, Stella and Dorothy.  So when she disappears during a midnight feast, everyone thinks she’s just playing another prank.  But when she doesn’t turn up the next morning and Miss de Vere receives a ransom note made from one of the books written by Justice’s mother, Justice realises that something sinister is going on and that she’s the only one who can solve it …

The third in the A GIRL CALLED JUSTICE mystery series by Elly Griffiths for readers aged 9+ lacked tension and pace partly due to a lot of set up with the introduction of Letitia.  As a result I didn’t believe in the peril and despite a good twist, the investigation is quite patchy.  That said, I did like Letitia’s attitude and she’ll make an interesting addition to the Barnowls and the tension with Stella and Dorothy would make me read on.

I have read the first book in the A GIRL CALLED JUSTICE series (which I enjoyed), but not the second.  However, you don’t need to have read the second book in order to follow this book as Griffiths gives enough information to let you know what’s gone on.

I have really enjoyed the rise in the number of mystery books for children aged 9+ in recent years and this series should tick a lot of my boxes as it combines an Enid Blyton boarding school vibe with a historical setting.  However although Griffiths does well at depicting the little rivalries and pashes that go on in a boarding school there were times when Justice’s way of thinking and idioms were just a tad too modern for me and kept throwing me out (and I acknowledge that the target readers may not pick up on this).  Also, the fact that Justice was made Form Captain in theory should have been a bit of a bigger deal given that it’s a responsible role but Justice never gives any indication of understanding the importance of it (and that’s even taking into account how skeptical she is of the School’s traditions).  Indeed, her reaction to a plot development later on is pretty much a shrug of her shoulders, which kind of detracts from the impact of it and I really needed some kind of interaction between Justice and Stella about it given that Stella is more sensitive to the privileges of the school because she comes from a poorer background and is on a scholarship.  (In fact, it would have been a good way of emphasising the wedge between her and Justice thanks to Letitia’s involvement).

This brings me to my big issue with the book, which is Letitia.  I actually liked her as a character – she really doesn’t care about the school, its rules or what the girls think of her – all she really cares about is her horse, Cloud, and there’s an emotional gulf between her and her father, Lord Blackstock (who is fabulously rich and much more interested in his businesses).  She brings an interesting dynamic to the group, highlights the slightly ridiculous rules and customs in the school and I found the wedge she drives between Justice and her existing friends Stella and Dorothy to be interesting in terms of the implications for their relationships.  The problem is that there is an awful lot of set up for her and it throws out the pacing of the story while the falling-out-and-making-up between Justice, Stella and Dorothy is all a bit perfunctory so there are no stakes there.  As I said above, I needed something a bit more concrete in terms of an argument between Justice and Stella and Justice and Dorothy than what we get (which is basically avoidance and coldness) that could then get recovered from.  I also needed someone to call Letitia on her behaviour at some point – instead she basically gets away with it, which is consistent with the fact that she comes from a rich and powerful family but does leave a bit of a sour taste.  I also needed a bit of an actual investigation from Justice, who instead seems to vaguely wander around waiting for a clue to fall in her lap in a way I found a bit frustrating.

Because the Letitia storyline is so dominant, other developments kind of get swept aside such as Miss de Vere’s secret telephone and the fact that there’s some kind of relationship between her and Justice’s father, which Justice is alert to and does not like.  I did like the arrival of the new Matron Miss Hopkins (who has come to a role at Highbury that’s rapidly becoming equivalent to the Defence Against The Dark Arts role at Hogwarts) and the new Art Teacher, Mr Davenport who has an unusual and free-flowing approach to teaching.  I also enjoyed Helena Bliss’s unexpected return and how the fact she should have gone at the end of the last school year is the subject of speculation but also excused by her many fans.  I wish that she was more developed than she is because she has a lot of potential given how high-handed she is and how she clearly adores being the big fish in a small pond.

It’s not that this is a bad book – it’s fine, I kept turning the pages and a development right at the end of the book relating to Dorothy promises interesting character dynamics with the Barnowls in the next book (even though the circumstances seem like a bit of an afterthought) and I will probably check out.  

A GIRL CALLED JUSTICE: THE GHOST IN THE GARDEN was released in the United Kingdom on 13th May 2021.  Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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