Cream Buns and Crime is part of the Murder Most Unladylike series about two girls – Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong – who run their own detective agency at boarding school. We’ve already reviewed the first in the series, Murder Most Unladylike (well twice, actually) as well as the second, Arsenic for Tea.
Though part of a series, Cream Buns and Crime doesn’t slot in very easily with the reading order. It contains a few short stories which are labelled as 0.5 (a prequel, essentially), 3.5 and 4.5, which come between books 3 and 4, and 4 and 5 respectively. It also contains guides to various parts of detecting and having your own agency as well as information on other fictional detectives and real mysteries, and where the title comes from, some recipes for cakes and sweet treats.
THE SHORT STORIES
The first story is The case of Lavinia’s missing tie and is the Wells and Wong Detective Agency’s very first case (#0.5). It is a simple affair and solved purely by identifying suspects and working out who could have, and would have, stolen the tie.
Then, story #3.5 is The Case of the Blue Violet. This one’s written up by Daisy (to prove she can do it just as well, no, better than Hazel) and is full of self-praise and exaggeration. This is a nice, baffling mystery, worthy of Sherlock Holmes. One of the older girls at school is ‘set up’ by her father to meet the son of a lord. She spends a lot of time with the young man, exchanging love notes and so on. When she returns to school she writes to him and he replies that he doesn’t know who she is. Totally baffling if you believe that no-one is crazy, but Daisy compares a love note to the denial note and is instantly off, as she has spotted something.
The third story is The Secret of Weston School (no number as it isn’t part of the main series) and it’s the Junior Pinkingtons’ first Mystery (Wells and Wong’s rival detectives). It starts with the post-boy being attacked and the post being rifled through, the library being broken into and one of the library monitors acting suspiciously. They unravel a whole smuggling plot to do with letters and library books before one of the suspects is found pushed down the stairs outside another suspects’ room. It is a very satisfying mystery with a few twists at the end.
Story #4.5 is The Case of the Deepdean Vampire, another written up by Daisy. Apparently Camilla Badescu (a fifth former) is a vampire. She has been seen scaling the school’s walls -upside down – at two a.m, and added to that, her dorm mate is looking pale and ill. Of course vampires aren’t real in this universe, and the truth is a very sad story related to the war.
The Mystery of the Missing Bunbreak is written by Beanie and occurs during the Christmas Holidays. Someone has stolen a scoop of trifle, but the main suspect doesn’t like trifle (who doesn’t like trifle!? that’s suspicious in its own right). Then a tin of gingerbread goes missing, and the cook declares no bunbreaks for a few days. Next its a braised ham that goes, and gingerbread crumbs are found in an outside shed. It’s not anyone inside the house, they’re fairly sure, and it’s not any of the poorer boys from down the street. The finding of a grubby doll is the catalyst to solving the mystery.
FORMING YOUR OWN DETECTIVE AGENCY
Daisy sets out the key things for setting up your own detective agency.
First, a notebook and biscuits. I suspect the Find-Outers would heartily agree and add macaroons to that, you can’t detect successfully on an empty stomach after all.
Daisy is adamant you ought to only have two members, though concedes that their assistant members are actually quite handy. Naturally, the Five Find-Outers and especially the Secret Seven would be on Hazel’s side here, as she favours teamwork.
You must come up with a good name for your society, and allocate roles. The Wells and Wong agency have a president and a vice-president, who also acts as a secretary so they are more organised than the FFos or Secret Seven who just have a leader. Perhaps the six other members of the Secret Seven wouldn’t have blended together into an unidentifiable group had they had special roles.
Peter of the Secret Seven would have liked the idea of making a pledge – as long as it stated that all members had to by loyal to him. The Wells and Wong pledge contains promises to logically detect crimes without involving adults (which both the FFO and Secret Seven would approve of) and also that you must obey every word of the president and vice-president.
Keeping a casebook is another important ‘rule’, where detectives ought to write down their clues and suspects so they may refer back to them. Fatty and the other FFOs did jot down lists of suspects from time to time but they never recorded every detail – perhaps because they didn’t have a secretary.
Like Fatty Wells and Wong like a detective kit, for fingerprinting, measuring things and disguising yourself. They also suggest you create a rivalry with another group but the Secret Seven would probably advise you against that, if the other group has the potential to be as annoying as Susie’s ‘Famous Five’.
And lastly, channeling J.K Rowling and Alastor ‘Mad Eye’ Moody more than Blyton, constant vigilance is required lest you want a dead detective on your hands. Deepdean is clearly a more dangerous place than Peterswood.
HOW TO DETECT
Daisy, who is so amazing and clever and not at all modest, also lays out the best way to be a detective.
She starts with the age-old notion of working out who, what, where, when and how, with examples from daring bun-theft perpetrated against herself. Then she covers drawing up a list of suspects and considering their motives and alibis, before examining the scene of the crime. While the FFOs were adept at gathering clues and evidence, they never had to consider the next bit of advice – studying a body. They did however do well at analysing footprints (and basket-bottom-prints!) and I think they even dabbled in finger-prints at some point, and Daisy sets out just how to gather finger-prints if you want to try it yourself.
Other vital skills are interviewing witnesses (which the FFO are very good at), eavesdropping, tracking (easier if Mr Goon isn’t getting in your way), recreating the crime and a la Murder She Wrote and Miss Marple – gathering together all interested parties and cleverly causing the guilty one to admit their guilt so the police can cart them away.
There is also a whole section later in the book on code-breaking with puzzles for the reader to solve (answers are included at the back of the book!).
A HISTORY OF DETECTIVES AND SPIES
Somewhat surprisingly there is an interlude from Robin Stevens, who talks about the golden history of detective novels. I thought it was very interesting, as it’s not something I’ve read about before. Of course I know of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, but not Ronald Knox or quite how detectives as we know them today came about.
Following on from this, Hazel gives us a look at the ‘queens of crime’, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham and Daisy does her top 10 detectives (she considered putting herself at #1 and only couldn’t because it was a list of fictional detectives…) and I am glad to see my favourite, Nancy Drew, features.
The spy chapter comes from Alexander of the Junior Pinkingtons, and his colleague George gives us a guide to some unsolved mysteries.
ROBIN STEVENS LIKES ENID BLYTON, AND OTHER THINGS
Robin Stevens also writes a chapter on the books that inspired her books, that way we get to read about some things published after the 1930s. She credits Enid Blyton (Malory Towers and the Famous Five) as well as Agatha Christie as the beginnings of her writing Murder Most Unladylike. She was also inspired by Jonathan Creek for First Class Murder, I love Jonathan Creek and I have watched all the episodes a dozen times so I look forward to reading First Class Murder one day. Another thing I love is Mean Girls and I’m intrigued to know that it was an inspiration for Jolly Foul Play – I’d better get reading more Robin Stevens! She reveals that the policeman in her books – Inspector Priestley – is at least a little inspired by the playwright J.B. Priestly, author of An Inspector Calls. I read that in high-school and still love it today.
I wish I’d read more in the series, and the two I have read I wish I had read more recently, before reading this. You don’t need to have read the other books as all the basics are explained but I think you always get more out of books if you have all the little details to mind.
Cream Buns and Crime is a good mix of stories, guides and non-fiction. Some of these ‘magazine’ type books use a few too many puzzles and bullet-lists as they are an easy way to pad out a book, but this one contains only a few of these things and the rest is good solid reading. I’m keen to read the rest of the series now, so I’ll be raiding the children’s department at work for them soon.