Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Book Review: Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens (2018)

Jolly Foul Play is the fourth book about 1930s British school girl detectives Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong and is set to be published in April. After several books set away from the girls' boarding school, the action now returns to Deepdean with the start of a new term. Upon arriving back at school, Daisy and Hazel are dismayed to discover that things have changed. There is a new head girl, the much-despised Elizabeth Hurst, and she has a team of dreadful "big girls" serving under her as prefects. Things take a shocking turn, however, when, on Bonfire Night, Elizabeth is killed, most likely at the hand of one of her closest friends. Of course, Wells and Wong are on the case almost right away, looking for clues even as members of the school faculty try to brush the murder off as an accident caused by a careless janitor. At the same time, Hazel continues to develop more of a spine, not to mention a secret romance with fellow detecting enthusiast Alexander, which causes a lot of tension in her friendship with Daisy.

In terms of plot and character development, this is the best book of this wonderful series so far. Every time I finish one of these books, I wish I lived in the UK so I wouldn't have to wait so long for the next one to come out, and that has never been more true than when I got to the end of this story. Stevens is a consistently excellent writer, to the point that she even makes the number of crimes these girls have helped solve feel realistic. (As much as I love Deepdean, it does help that each mystery has been set in a different location.)

Parents of a Catholic bent similar to my own might want to know that there is some lesbian subtext in this book, and even a revelation that one girl at school actually has romantic feelings for another. I could see some of this coming early in the book, and perhaps even in subtle ways in previous books, but it's pretty blatant when it is revealed, and it seems like there may be more to come. It's not going to keep me from the rest of the series  but I don't have children old enough to read it hanging around my house, either. I'm not sure there is enough here to warrant skipping the book altogether, but there may be a conversation families want to have before, during, or after reading this particular title.

In any case, this book will be greatly satisfying for readers who like puzzles, as there are a good number of clues to piece together, and it's also a treat for fans of school stories, as everything connected to the murder is also related to the culture of Deepdean itself. Stevens's writing is just a breath of fresh air, and I hope it won't be too long before book five, Mistletoe and Murder, makes its way across the pond. (Thanks to Simon & Schuster and Edelweiss for the ARC of this book.)

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