Small Crime: A Spoonful of Murder by Robin Stevens

In this sixth book in the young adult "Murder Most Unladylike" series, we're finally allowed to see Hazel Wong's home and family, as she and her best friend and fellow sleuth Daisy Wells travel to Hong Kong after Hazel's grandfather has passed away.

But the first thing that greets the girls upon their arrival is Hazel's newborn brother Teddy, and his arrival has turned everything in the family upside down. This affects Hazel's standing in the family, as previously she was the eldest child but now is "only" the eldest girl.

However, that's not the only thing upsetting the status quo - since Hazel's grandfather is now gone, her father is the new head of the family, and he has a much more modern outlook on things which annoys and/or upsets several people among the family's friends and acquaintances.

And then when Hazel's infant brother is due for a doctor's visit, he is kidnapped, the accompanying maid is murdered, and there seems to be no lack of suspects... one of whom is Hazel herself!

This is another enjoyable instalment in this rather excellent series. We've previously talked about Robin Stevens introducing different GA tropes in her books, and this could be called an example of the "mystery in an exotic setting". Purely plotwise, there's nothing here that's entirely new, unlike previous books, where we've had impossible murders, focus on reconstructions of the crime and elimination of suspects, and so on and so forth. This is more a distilment of the things we've already seen.

Instead, what's new here is the setting, which affects both our sleuths in different ways. Daisy has to adjust to the fact that Hazel is now the more important person of the two and that her title is fairly meaningless to the people in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Hazel is at the same time both more confident because she is at home in Hong Kong, and less confident because of the new arrival in the family and also because of the experiences she's had while living far away from home and their effect on her outlook at things.

This introduces a somewhat different dynamic to our pair of intrepid detectives. At the same time, Daisy is still the same person as always: blunt and courageous and clever and impetuous. May she never change!

I guess as a consequence of the Hong Kong setting, we have to make allowances for the Chinese Triads getting involved in the investigation. Fortunately, they're used in a fairly atypical way, which means that at least I wasn't too disappointed. But I suppose that's another mystery trope that's explored a bit here...

One thing that could have improved my reading experience was if the sequence where young Teddy is kidnapped and his maid is murdered had been retooled into an impossible crime situation. It wouldn't have taken much to create that appearance. On the other hand, I suppose that would have taken time from other aspects of the plot and the setting that Stevens wanted to explore here. It's not a big thing for me, just something that immediately struck me while I was reading.

As for the investigation and the denouement, I think this was one of the better books in the series. We're still following a similar structure to the previous novels where the young ladies eliminate one suspect after another. Some of the things that they use to eliminate suspects work better than others, but on the whole I think Wells & Wong (and Stevens, of course) do well here.

There's also a bit of a twist - for want of a better description - towards the end which I thought was handled well and elevated the story above the average of this series. Hazel and her father also reach a new understanding as the case wraps up, and it will be interesting how this plays out over the course of the rest of the series.

This is highly recommended, though I do think that this series should be read in order. There are no mystery spoilers between the different stories, but we get to follow the development of the main characters over several years here. And more importantly, all of the books are at least above average, so do read them all!

No comments:

Post a Comment