by Elizabeth C. Bunce
Kirkus An aspiring sleuth in Victorian England is convinced her neighbor’s death was no accident. Twelve-year-old Myrtle, who might have just been spying—er, Observing!—the neighborhood with her telescope, is convinced that prickly Miss Wodehouse has been the victim of foul play. Though the police say the old lady had a heart attack, Myrtle disagrees. With her magnifying lens, her specimen jars, and her stubbornness, Myrtle will prove the old lady was killed—and find the murderer, to boot. Though unpopular Myrtle leans in to a self-image as “the precocious daughter who lurked about everywhere being impertinent and morbid,” she has allies. Her interest in detecting comes from her affection for her adoring prosecutor father and the memory of her medical-student mother. Myrtle, middle-class and white, is encouraged by her equally quirky and exceedingly clever governess, Miss Judson (the multilingual, biracial daughter of white British and black French Guianese parents), who is at best half-hearted in her attempts to keep Myrtle out of trouble. Meanwhile, Caroline, a British Indian girl who’s been mean before, disassociates herself from Myrtle’s bully and becomes a staunch and equally geeky friend. Witty prose doesn’t always hew to historical accuracy but keeps the characters accessible and quite charming while Myrtle (surrounded by beloved and supportive adults) avoids many of the more tired tropes of the eccentric-detective genre. A saucy, likable heroine shines in a mystery marked by clever, unexpected twists . (Historical mystery. 10-12) Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Publishers Weekly Channeling classic Victorian whodunits, Bunce’s (the Thief Errant series) detective series opener features a quirky, winning narrator and a lively secondary cast. Thanks to governess Miss Judson, 12-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle, who is middle-class and white, is training to become a Young Lady of Quality. Inspired by the examples of her late mother, who was a medical student, and her widowed lawyer father, Myrtle tends to be anything but proper, for example erecting an observation point from which to chronicle neighborhood events. When elderly next-door neighbor, scornful Miss Wodehouse, doesn’t follow her routine one morning, Myrtle summons the constabulary. After the revelation of Miss Wodehouse’s death and the arrival of the elderly woman’s heretofore unknown relatives, Myrtle suspects she was murdered and enlists Miss Judson to solve the mystery. A generous, well-wrought relationship between governess and charge complements tightly plotted twists. As “the precocious daughter who lurked about everywhere being impertinent and morbid,” Myrtle is as clever as she is determined, and her expertise—seen in evidence collection and courtroom antics—is certain to delight genre stalwarts and mystery novices alike. Publishing simultaneously: How to Get Away with Myrtle (A Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery #2). Ages 10–up. Agent: Erin Murphy, Erin Murphy Literary. (Oct.)
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Book list There is something afoot at Redgraves, the house neighboring Myrtle Hardcastle’s own, which is why the precocious 12-year-old took it upon herself to phone the police. Myrtle is quite sure that something dastardly has occurred, but she is thrilled when the crime appears to be murder—not that anyone else is calling it that, yet. After the body of cranky old Miss Wodehouse is removed from its last earthly bubble bath, the cause of death is pronounced to be heart failure; or, if you’re Myrtle, heart failure due to poisoning. Myrtle’s above-average intellect, passions for justice and science (an endearing blend of her parents’ professions), fondness for detective stories, and predilection for asking questions make her the perfect person to investigate what is obviously a crime most foul. Written very much in the style of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries, Myrtle’s spirited investigation—aided by her governess, who champions the Socratic method of learning—is a joyful thing to behold. Well-crafted red herrings throw Myrtle and readers alike for a loop or two, and an old story about a rare and precious flower grows some very real roots as details about Miss Wodehouse emerge. Set in Victorian England, this mystery gleefully overturns sexist norms and celebrates independent women of intellect, with Myrtle Hardcastle leading the charge.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Horn Book This clever and lively Victorian English-village murder mystery starring precocious twelve-year-old fledgling detective Myrtle Hardcastle has all the trappings: households with cooks and governesses and groundskeepers; church luncheons and afternoon teas; mysterious newcomers; missing wills. Also, poisoned elderly ladies: Myrtle's discovery that her neighbor, Miss Wodehouse, did not die of natural causes but was murdered leads to a story filled with spying, deduction, false accusations, red herrings, and danger. Bunce does an excellent job of making Myrtle the lead actor but gives her a strong set of (mostly female) supporters, including her beloved governess, Miss Judson; the family cook; a surprise-twist-at-the-end ally; and one very vocal cat. Myrtle's single-mindedness in solving the murder might wear thin for readers, but she is made sympathetic due to her fraught relationship with her kind but sometimes disapproving prosecutor father, her grief over her mother's death from cancer, and her fervent wish that her father now fall in love with the estimable Miss Judson. Myrtle's narration is Arch with a capital A ("Dear Reader, kindly permit me a pause to properly introduce one of the Key Players in this narrative"), but it suits the novel's setting and subgenre to a T. The last page all but promises a sequel. (For another middle-grade period murder mystery starring an intrepid young female sleuth, check out Marthe Jocelyn's Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano, rev. 1/20.) (c) Copyright 2021. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.