Golly, if you’re reading this then you’re an absolute brick for being so kind!
Sorry, after I read Robin’s fantastic debut, A Murder Most Unladylike last year (Book One in the Wells & Wong Mystery series) I spoke like that for at least a week. It was one of the freshest, most unique Middle Grade releases for years, brimming with fun and mystery, and when I heard it was set to be part of a series I was so pleased! Can Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong recreate the success of their first outing in Arsenic for Tea? Well, Watson, yes they can. Yes they jolly well can.
Hazel is spending her Summer holidays at Fallingford, the historic mansion home of her best friend and detective extraordinaire Daisy Wells, as well as Daisy’s family – Lord & Lady Hastings, her brother Bertie, her Uncle Felix and Aunt Saskia. Between all of their family politics, as well as guests arriving for Daisy’s fourteenth birthday, Hazel is starting to feel awfully homesick for her family in Hong Kong, but the arrival of Kitty and Beans, two girls from her dorm at Deepdean School for girls, helps to settle her nerves. Perhaps she can settle into this crumbling English mansion life and celebrate her precocious best friend’s birthday without incident?
No such luck, Watson. A late addition to the party arrives in the house, the slimy Mr. Curtis, and the atmosphere turns incredibly hostile. It’s obvious that he and Lady Hastings have something going on, and that ruffles everyone’s feathers – not to mention that Daisy is certain he’s only tricking her mother so he can get his hands on Fallingford’s numerous valuable works of art. When the afternoon of Daisy’s party comes around, the guests are assembled in the dining room for a children’s tea party (Daisy is outraged – she is not six years old). The party takes a sour note fast, though… And soon there’s a body in Fallingford with a lot of suspicion around it. The rain drives down harder and harder outside, cutting the historic home off from the police – Leaving The Wells & Wong Detective Society the only ones who capable of solving this murder most foul…
More absolutely fantastic adventures from my favourite detectives! Robin has delivered yet another perfect balance in this novel, between mystery, humour and friendship. Her characters dance and leap about the page with such vivid, varied and crazed personalities – Daisy is as headstrong and determinedly brilliant as always, but in Arsenic for Tea, we get to see her falter and struggle with feelings that never cropped up in Book One, as her home and family are invaded by such horrible crimes. Hazel’s character development is coming along leaps and bounds, with confidence boosted in the face of A Murder Most Unladylike’s triumph, she’s now a much savvier and discerning detective. We also get some heart breaking and incredibly poignant glimpses into Hazel’s life as an outsider because of her racial background – distrusted or dismissed by many of the older members of the Wells family as being The Oriental. Robin works this into the story effortlessly, building the reader’s attachment to the intelligent, emotional and diverse narrator of the story. Arsenic for Tea has a pretty big cast of characters, but as each one comes under scrutiny from the Detective Society, we get chance to see their fully developed characters under some great pressures and stresses, and we get the important insight that no adult is perfect – Far from it in fact, and the girls learn some eye opening facts as the grown-ups unravel before their eyes. Adding Kitty and Beans to the story (present in Book One), lends a new dimension to the mystery too – Kitty is sarcastic but just as stubborn as Daisy herself, and Beans is just adorable, always terrified and wide eyed at the horrors around her, she’s such an innocent little thing, and it’s through her that we get a sense of just what the Detective Society are getting into. Detection of murders is dangerous, even if Daisy doesn’t realise that.
As always, the mystery element of Arsenic for Tea is properly thought out, intelligently and logically plotted, and filled with enough red herrings to keep the reader uncertain right up until the final few chapters. I had my suspicions, but couldn’t tie them together with evidence, and that really made me feel part of the story and one of The Detective Society myself! Again the “Enid Blyton does Agatha Christie” vibe shines through and it’s hilarious and utterly charming – and the language use is once again one of the points that makes the book bounce and sing in its dialogue. I have no idea where Robin digs up some of these terms, but they’re splendid and so much fun. The core of the story though, past mystery and murder and all that, is about friendship. Daisy and Hazel’s devotion to one another is one of my favourite fictional friendships in Children’s Fiction, and now that the proud Daisy trusts Hazel’s judgement (not that she’d ever admit it), their relationship has taken on a new aspect of mutual reassurance. They’re powerfully intelligent girls by their own rights, but together they’re unstoppable.
Good news, too! The next Wells & Wong Mystery is First Class Murder and will be out in July of this year!
Thanks for reading all, View-halloo!
P.S. You can follow Robin Stevens on Twitter just here.