Blogger Raremediumwelldone has given Murder Most Unladylike and Arsenic for Tea an incredibly thoughtful review – it might be one of my very favourites ever. She says:
‘The first person narrator, Hazel is a quiet, thoughtful girl from Hong Kong whose rich, England-obssessed father has sent her to an English boarding school for her education. Perpetually aware of her precarious status as the only Chinese girl in Deepdean (and indeed, probably in these English people’s lives), Hazel has adapted to survive, gaining the irrepressible Daisy as a friend into the bargain.
High-spirited, whip-smart, exuding the confidence possessed by the upper class she belongs to, Daisy Wells is the stereotypical English heroine, and she, Hazel and the narrative know it. But Stevens is too good a writer to let that stand, and Daisy’s refusal to suspect people she is fond of, hotheadedness, and noted lack of compassion for those she considers wrongdoers emerges as the story goes on. Hazel has occasional moments of timidity, but those are usually the result of her empathy and vivid imagination. Her kindness and emotional intuitiveness are important counterpoints to Daisy’s brilliant quick-thinking, and their lovely friendship evolves through the two books realistically.
Stevens writes about things like the racism Hazel internalises and Daisy’s privilege with insight and sympathy. It’s there in the way that Daisy lies with ease and assumes no one will question her, and in Hazel’s hiding of her favourite mooncakes because Lavinia has laughed at them before; lots of details that add up to fantastic, complex characters.
The mysteries themselves are beautiful concoctions that owe obvious debts to the golden age of British crime fiction, and are unravelled beautifully. The atmosphere of the settings – boarding school, old English heirloom property – are captured exceptionally well, with the boarding school vocab giving me flashbacks to reading about Malory Towers with envy. The cherry on top of the cake is the unexpected queerness. It’s not a central issue, but Stevens gives a knowing wink to the inherent subtext that many novels about boarding schools had, and it was a lovely surprise to encounter whilst reading.’
It’s such a great analysis, and I’m so glad that my books inspired it. You can follow Raremediumwelldone on Twitter @weimingkam.