Poison Is Not Polite
The schoolgirl detectives of Murder Is Bad Manners, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong, return in Robin Stevens’ sequel, Poison Is Not Polite. Here, they tackle a murder during one of those classic English mystery situations: the manor house party.
It’s the Easter holidays, so instead of going home to Hong Kong, Hazel is staying with Daisy and her family at their estate. Daisy’s parents, Lord and Lady Hastings, aren’t getting along, a situation exacerbated by Lady Hastings’ friend, Mr. Curtis, coming to visit as well. The too-attractive Mr. Curtis is an antiques dealer, and he’s very interested in obtaining some of the family heirlooms, no matter whether the owners really want to part with them or not. In short, he’s a cad.
The additional visitors are the scatty Aunt Saskia, the mysterious Uncle Felix (who may or may not be a secret agent), two more schoolgirl friends, and Miss Alston, Daisy’s temporary governess. Everyone has a secret, and while younger readers will enjoy the surprises, there’s no harm in older readers figuring them out before they’re revealed, because they can play along and enjoy seeing the characters realize them.
We’re over a quarter of the way through the book before the slimy Mr. Curtis gets poisoned, which gives Stevens plenty of time to establish the cast and their motivations. While a few of the characters aren’t fully fleshed out — Daisy’s brother Bertie, for example, and his visiting friend Stephen wander in and out as the plot demands, but they didn’t seem like real people to me — they are all beautifully described visually, and the setting is wonderful.
Stevens also downplays the “foreign girl in classic English environment” in this volume. While that’s a natural part of Hazel’s character, and it’s part of what makes her such a great observer and narrator, I thought it was mentioned too often in the first book. Having her express her different background through comparison mentions of her home, which she misses, felt more natural to me.
I like the way very British phrases are used in the text, with a glossary in the back (written in character) for American readers. It’s a nice touch to keep the period and locale flavor. That’s the best reason to read this mystery series for me, how much fun it is to visit the past with these privileged schoolgirls and solve mysteries with them.