I don’t read a lot of audiobooks, but something about the sample of Premeditated Myrtle made me give it a go, and I’m so glad I did – this is a great middle grade mystery with a really fun heroine!
Book: Premeditated Myrtle by Elizabeth C Bunce, read by Bethan Rose Young
Read before: No
Release date: 6th October 2020
Ownership: Audiobook ARC sent free of charge via NetGalley. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Murder investigation; discussions of poisoning, violence, natural death; discussion of flesh decomposition; death of parent (in past, but grief discussed).
Myrtle Hardcastle’s father is a Court Prosecutor, and she longs for nothing more than to follow him into the study and practice of law. Sadly for her, though, she’s a twelve year old girl in Victorian times, so it’s hardly an acceptable life goal – but that’s not going to stop Myrtle! When her next door neighbour, the eccentric lily-breeding spinster Miss Wodehouse, is found dead, Myrtle is sure there’s foul play involved, even if the authorities don’t believe her, so she sets out to solve the murder and find out what really happened on that night. What follows is an engrossing adventure of a mystery, with a strong and smart heroine you can’t help but love.
The story is told in the first person, and Myrtle’s narrative voice is brilliant, full of dry humour and irrepressible enthusiasm. She’s full of pluck, and committed to learning everything she can, and you end up dragged along with her energy – part of this was the excellent narration, but I also think this would be a delight to read on paper as it strikes the perfect balance between historical accuracy and modern ease. While Myrtle was easily my favourite character (and one I think will be beloved by younger readers for her no-nonsense attitude), I also loved her governess, Miss Judson – capable and witty, she’s a combination of mother figure and best friend to Myrtle, and their warm relationship really made me smile. They’re a great investigating team! Myrtle’s father, too, is a loving parent, even if he is slightly baffled by how his daughter has grown up so similar to him – so often kids’ books happen despite the adults in the story, but I really liked how strong and supportive the adults around Myrtle were. Plus, every book is better with a cat, and the late Miss Wodehouse’s pet Peony makes plenty of appearance – and the narrator’s interpretation of her ‘meow’s was wonderful and funny!
The mystery itself is twisty and fun, and kept me guessing. I really liked Myrtle’s investigations for their practicality and the contemporary science they included – for example, there’s some discussion of the brand new techniques for fingerprint identification, which I found very entertaining. There are several footnotes throughout the book where Myrtle explains legal or medical concepts that might be outside the knowledge of the reader, and these are well-explained in her fun voice. At times it gets a little bit too red-herring-y, with a bit of obvious misdirection, but I am coming at it with years of mystery reading under my belt so a younger reader might not notice this, and it certainly didn’t take away from the joy of it.
I had a great time with this book, and Myrtle is exactly the kind of heroine I’d want kids to read about – she’s practical, funny, and has a great sense of justice. I think this would be great for those who are looking for something a bit more youthful than Sherlock Holmes (I was obsessively into them aged 11, but they are a bit archaic), or perfect for fans of the Murder Most Unladylike series who would be interested in something historical. Although they aren’t supernatural, it also gave me the same kind of vibes as Gail Carriger’s Finishing School books, with a smart Victorian girl making use of her unconventional knowledge with great flair. I’m really looking forward to the next book, How To Get Away With Myrtle! Five out of five cats.