Murder Is Bad Manners

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Murder Is Bad Manners Book Poster Image
Clever writing, characters shine in boarding-school mystery.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Set in 1934, Murder Is Bad Manners offers lots of mini-epiphanies about period culture (for example, Hazel talks about the freezing, Spartan dorm and explains, "In England, the way of showing that you are very rich is to pretend that you are very poor and cannot afford things like heating or new shoes") and prejudice (a teacher's explanation of why she had to lie to get the job she's very good at). There also are numerous shout-outs and sly references to the mystery queens of the era, e.g. Margery Allingham, Agatha Christie, and Dorothy L. Sayers, as well as priceless literary/art references: " ... Miss Tennyson, our English teacher -- that is her name, really, although she is no relation to the famous one. If you've seen that painting of the Lady of Shalott drooping in her boat, you have seen Miss Tennyson. Her hair is always down round her face, and she is as drippy as an underdone cake."

Positive Messages

Smart girls solve mysteries. But the smart girls in this story need to hide the fact that they're smart to get along with their peers. Hazel's narrative voice holds prejudice, snobbery, and meanness up for subtle, poignant, and often hilarious mockery as she navigates the alien world of an English boarding school.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Self-deprecating, thoughtful narrator and detective Hazel may be completely dazzled by her aristocratic, fearless, self-absorbed, and often manipulative BFF but also sees right through her -- and takes her as she is, though not without some tears along the way. Amid the not-so-secret drinking and serial romance on the faculty, a few adults we'll probably be seeing in future series installments show unexpected strengths.

Violence

Two murders, plus another in the past; brief description of blood and the creepy limpness of a corpse. The unknown murderer may well be after the girls who know too much. School bullying, including locking a girl in a trunk for hours; Hazel, goaded past her limit by a mean girl, arranges an "accidental" collision on the hockey field and gets in as many licks as she can. "Unfortunately," she says, "I do not feel guilty at all."

Sex

More than one couple, including a pair of girls, is described as "canoodling," which Daisy defines as "a grown-up sort of kissing behind closed doors." One of the murder victims was part of a convoluted faculty romance: She and another woman on the faculty were an item until a good-looking male teacher arrived, but her romance with him ended when he took up with another female teacher. An out-of-wedlock child sets many events in motion, and Hazel's school adventure begins, she says, when her father's concubine fails to produce a son.

Language

“Don’t be an ass” — used once referring to donkeys. Two instances of “bloody” as a British swear word, with Hazel commenting on how shocked she is that a teacher uses the word.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One of the teachers is constantly drunk, and others are taking lots of prescription drugs. Veronal, an early barbiturate, is used to murder one victim. Adult characters smoke cigarettes, and one of the schoolgirls is said to have a stash of them. Daisy and Hazel down sickening doses of ipecac to further their sleuthing.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Murder Is Bad Manners (or Murder Most Unladylike in its original U.K. edition), the first installment of a series by first-time author Robin Stevens, is an appealing whodunit set in a posh English boarding school in 1934, featuring 13-year-old detectives and BFFs Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong. Teachers turn up murdered, and a not-so-secret string of affairs (both same- and opposite-sex) may have something to do with it. Narrator Hazel is sometimes worldly and sometimes naive, matter-of-factly noting that her dad has a concubine but not knowing exactly what goes on when characters are "canoodling" behind closed doors. Being a  Chinese girl in 1930s England (a smart and rich one), Hazel deals with a lot of casual prejudice and snobbery, and she holds her own. This is a great choice for families who like books featuring diverse characters.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byLTD4288 June 12, 2015

Captivating whodunit with diverse characters and heart. Applause!

This excellent 1934-set murder mystery (the first of a series) proves that debut author Robin Stevens can put heart and humor in a genre that is not often direc... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old October 11, 2015

A wondeful book full of twists and turns

I love this book I read it a year back and have gone on to read both sequels. There are deaths and certian parts that you may need to talk to your child about.... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byClefairy November 26, 2016

Great book!

This is a great book. I couldn't stop reading it. There are multiple plot twists that keep the reader entertained. I think this is one of the best books i... Continue reading

What's the story?

Hazel Wong's father, a banker in 1930s Hong Kong, reluctantly gives up his dream of sending his son to follow in his footsteps at an English boarding school after, as Hazel matter-of-factly describes it, his concubine gives birth to yet another girl. So he ships Hazel off to perennially cold, damp Deepdean School, where she finds that English misses aren't quite what she expected. For one thing, they're a lot meaner. But, luckily, the most popular girl in class, the aristocratic, glamorous Daisy Wells, likes Hazel's spirit. The two become BFFs and form a detective society with Daisy as Holmes and Hazel as Watson: "After all, I am much too short to be the heroine of this story, and who ever heard of a Chinese Sherlock Holmes?" They don't have much opportunity for sleuthing, though, until Hazel stumbles across the dead body of a teacher -- which disappears while she's summoning help.

Is it any good?

This great intro to whodunits for young girls also is a lot of fun for adult fans of the grandes dames of detective fiction (Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and so on). Much about this mash-up of English-cosy mystery and boarding-school saga is straight from central casting, but a big plus in MURDER IS BAD MANNERS is the mini-novellas and character sketches author Robin Stevens tosses off in a few sentences, such as Hazel's description of how she came to be at Deepdean:

"My mother was furious. She hates my father's obsession with England. 'Western school never did any Chinese person good,' she said.

"'Oh come now, Lin darling,' said my father, laughing. 'What about me?'

"'Exactly,' snapped my mother, and for the next week she refused to speak anything but Cantonese in protest."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why stories set in boarding schools seem to have such enduring appeal. What others have you read orr seen in the movies? How do you like them? How does this one compare?

  • This story is set in 1934. How would it be different if it were set in the present day? How would the characters' lives be different? What about cultural attitudes?

  • How do the popular girls at your school treat the less glamorous ones? Which ones are mean, and which ones are kind to everybody? How do you feel about the way they act?

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