Look at the picture above and read the caption.
“You’re a thief!” cried Mavis vindictively. “It was who you stole my fountain pen!”
If your heart thrills to this evidence of major crime, raised voices and passionate accusations, the school hat worn indoors, the prospect of pupils being sent to coventry, and serious detection to come – then this post is for you. (If your heart doesn’t thrill, then perhaps you don’t have one.)
Earlier this year I did a blogpost on schoolgirl detectives in books and comics. I said then that this was the post I was born to write, and it a) resonated with many other fans of both school and detective stories and b) has led to even more excitements.
Caroline Crampton’s podcast Shedunnit is already a must-listen for any fan of Golden Age detective fiction, and this week her episode is about, yes, schoolgirl detectives and other books set in academic institutions. She says herself, it was the episode she has been dying to make. And she asked me to be a guest, and there I am giving my important views on this vital topic. Also featured is Robin Stevens, who is the author of the Murder Most Unladylike book series. And every possible book in the genre (and some you wouldn’t have thought of) is featured.
Caroline’s Shedunnit website is here with links and instructions to reach the podcast, or else look for it where you normally listen to podcasts. It really is a great episode, and that is a completely objective view. Full of fascinating questions and considerations of what makes crime at school such a good topic. And, as in the top picture, a fountain pen crime features in depth.
Incidentally – if Caroline ever asks you to be a guest on Shedunnit (and for many of my readers this would be quite possible) do accept: she has superb editing and interviewing skills and does her very best to make her guests sound intelligent and interesting (ahem). This is the second time I have featured – first time was the Queer Clues episode – and it was a most enjoyable experience.
" Hot news girls - Elly Griffiths is sending a young woman to school here!"
So by happy chance, one of my favourite modern crime writers has now moved into this area too. Elly Griffiths is revered round here for her Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries, much featured on the blog, but we love all her books. This one is aimed at Young Adults and is
A Girl Called Justiceand has just been published, and I do hope is the first of a series. It is firmly set in 1936, and the first line is ‘As soon as she saw the school, Justice Jones knew that it had potential for murder.’
Justice has all the usual problems settling into her new school: the dormy captain is mean to her, the food is terrible (the shepherd’s pie ‘tasted as if it were made of actual shepherds’) - and one of the maids may have been murdered. There is plenty going on, and I enjoyed it immensely. This is an early paragraph:
Eva was a small, sandy-haired girl. She was dressed in a brown blazer with gold trim. Under this she had a brown skirt, yellow-and-white striped shirt and long brown socks. But Justice did not think that she was actually insane; this was the school uniform. Justice had hers in her bag but she hadn’t dared try it on yet.And there is surely a reference back to the revered Agatha Christie’s Cat Among the Pigeons in the choice of one of the victims – let’s just say that certain roles in a school are more dangerous than others.
I kept wondering if one of the pupils is going to turn out to be Ruth Galloway's mother.
Tremendous fun and recommended to anyone who enjoys schoolgirl detective stories.
Pictures from a schoolgirl annual of 1931, despite what appears to be an ipad on the bench in the top one.
I recommend "Cherry Ames, Boarding School Nurse" by Helen Wells, another interesting schoolgirl mystery.ReplyDelete
Oh thank you, sounds splendid. I have ordered a copy!Delete
Oh, I loved A Girl Called Justice! It's good when an author has already honed her craft on adult books and then turns to children's fiction.ReplyDelete
Yes, I agree with you - she did it very well, you can see the age group it's aimed at, but there is no element of talking down to the audience.Delete
Sorry I'm so late to the party, Moira! There is something about a schoolgirl mystery, isn't there? And I'm very glad Jessica mentioned the Helen Wells mysteries. That particular one suits your theme here, but there are others, too, that really give a look at life when those books were written.ReplyDelete
I'm glad to have your sayso on the Helen Wells book too, margot! It is winging its way to me now. I know you always like an academic setting yourself.Delete
The girls in the first picture are wearing high heals, is that really part of the uniform?ReplyDelete
I have no first-hand knowledge, but the girls in the pictures in my small collection of schoolgirl annuals always wear those shoes. I'm guessing the girls are 14 or older? The particular heels in those pictures are either Louis heels or Cuban heels, and I think might easily have been worn by schoolgirls of the era...Delete
Moira: Shedunnit is very well done. You sound, errrr are, brilliant on the podcast! Caroline's research is impressive.ReplyDelete
Looking at the illustrations on this post took me back to the end of the 1960's. While I was at a Benedictine boarding school my sister, Ann Marie, and wife to be, Sharon, were at an Ursuline boarding school. We were about half an hour apart by car but it was far more distant in that era. What the illustrations brought to mind was the challenge my Ann Marie and Sharon and the other boarders faced with the hem line of their uniform skirts. Being the 60's they had a tendency to creep up. The nuns would periodically hold inspections. Looking at the illustrations the skirts were shorter in 1931 than I would have expected.
Thanks for the kind words and for the reminiscences Bill! I too had nuns checking on hemlengths, and also on whether we had worn gloves on our way to school like proper young ladies - this was day school rather than boarding. The nuns were fighting a losing battle.Delete
I know what you mean by thinking these skirts in the pictures are quite short, but the thinking in those days was that the short skirts showed that these were children rather than young ladies, so it didn't matter their showing their legs. In books of the era you occasionally read of a girl 'having her skirts lengthened' when about 14/15, thus showing she was now a young lady and rather grown up. The very opposite of what was going on in my era!
I hope Elly Griffiths does well with A Girl Called Justice. That is a very nice title.ReplyDelete
It is a good title. And she messaged me to say she is writing a second book in the series. I will read anything she writes!Delete
I will have to try this author, maybe before the year is out.ReplyDelete
Do I remember that you have one ready to go? (when its number comes up). I think you will like her darker ones (schoolgirl detectives not exactly up your street!) - they will be at the lighter end of your reading, but they are very good.Delete