“Of course, I have been reminded now that everything changes, and there is really no such thing as solid ground.”
So, we come to the end of the Murder Most Unladylike series of books by the inimitable Robin Stevens. This is book nine of the wonderful children’s book series that has captured the imaginations of adults and children all over the globe. Sometimes, an author can get carried away and write too many books in a series and it kind of just peters out at the end because all the good ideas were published several books ago. Not so with Daisy and Hazel’s adventures in detecting. Although there are of course some books in the series that in my opinion are better than others, they were all fun to read and Death Sets Sail did not disappoint at all. In fact, it is up there with the best of them, such as Arsenic for Tea, Mistletoe and Murder, A Spoonful of Murder and Death in the Spotlight.
The action focuses on the girls’ holiday to Egypt for a cruise along the Nile. Yes, if you’re a Murder Most Unladylike fan worth your salt you’ll know that Robin Stevens is a massive Agatha Christie fan and this is indeed an homage to her work Death on the Nile. Just as First Class Murder was a nod to Murder on the Orient Express. This is what I love about Robin Stevens, she is incredibly well versed in the Golden Age of Crime writing and there are many petites homages to pick up on in her work. I think also that because her stories are written for children they are very ‘cosy’ and unthreatening so they appeal to a lot of adults who like a good crime novel but do not wish to read anything too gory or creepy. Plus it has the added bonus of that school story atmosphere which so many of us loved when we were younger. I digress – tangentially!
The Egyptian setting is so perfectly captured and the way Stevens writes it evokes that sophisticated, 1930s style savoir faire attitude of wealthy Brits abroad. I believe that Stevens did a lot of research and visited Egypt with her husband quite soon before lockdown this year for a research trip. A worthwhile vacation indeed!
Daisy and Hazel are supposed to be just two fifteen year old schoolgirls enjoying a trip to Egypt to see the pyramids and some temples, but of course we all know what they’ll really get tangled up in, and that’s murder! There is rather a strange troupe of gentlewomen (and a gentleman) on the cruise called the Breath of Life Society. They are an odd kind of small cult who believe that they are the reincarnations of ancient pharaohs. Unfortunately, the leader of the group is stabbed to death in her cabin one night and suddenly everyone is a suspect, especially her daughter, who sleepwalks at night and wakes up covered in her mother’s blood! This case is particularly dangerous, and everyone is at threat from the murderer. Can Daisy and Hazel, with the help of Alexander, George and young May Wong crack the case before it’s too late?
I loved reading this book because it wrong footed me at every turn. The story is well plotted and there are plenty of red herrings and wrong turns. I am notoriously easy to dupe, and very bad at working out the murderer in mysteries (yes, even children’s mysteries!) so it was not difficult to get one over on me but I think the plotting was very clever. As usual, I did not see the twist in the tale and the even bigger twist in the tale at the end of the book! Suffice to say that I really enjoyed it and though a bit sad, the ending was very fitting and right. No anti-climaxes!
Overall, a really good end to a wonderfully uplifting and inspirational series of books. Robin Stevens is the reason I am writing children’s fiction and she even offered me some sage advice when I emailed her about it. She’s incredibly dedicated to her fans and will respond if you drop her a line. She’s a really good human as well as an exceptional writer.
Oh, and did I say how utterly beautiful the book is? It’s gold foil on the cover, with the usual awesome drawings of Daisy and Hazel by Nina Tara. Then, the piece de resistance – the page edges are sprayed cobalt blue with a cobalt blue back cover. It’s delicious! Enjoy, and please let me know in the comments if you enjoyed it too. Or not, as the case may be!