Reviews /

The Ministry of Unladylike Activity

Authored by Robin Stevens
Published by Penguin Random House Children's UK

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The Ministry of Unladylike Activity is the first book in a new series by Robin Stevens, who introduced us to Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong in the Murder Most Unladylike mysteries.

This book welcomes 10-year-old May Wong, little sister of Hazel, whose determination to become a spy leads her to run away from her boarding School. An encounter with German born Eric Jones sees the beginning of a friendship built on a shared desire to prove the grown-ups wrong. Posing as evacuees, they arrive at Elysium Hall, home to the wealthy Verey family.  Here they meet the Irish American Finnuala O’ Malley and sparks fly between her and May. It soon becomes clear that all is not as it seems. The two aspiring spies, Eric and May, are determined to find out who is passing on secrets to the Nazis so that they can prove themselves ready to join the Ministry. What they had not bargained for was a murder at Elysium Hall. The death of Sidney Foley takes their investigations in a new direction and hatred turns to friendship as Finnuala, Eric and May join forces. They work together to spy on members of the household to eliminate them as murder suspects. With a ghost that hurls plates and cups across the room and a stranger living in the abandoned cottage, the three budding detectives are sure of a bumpy ride!

This is a definite page-turner and has been described as ‘Agatha Christie for young readers’. However, as an older reader (ahem!) I could not put this down and read it in an afternoon!  The twists and turns of the plot are expertly crafted to keep the reader guessing as to whodunnit. The detailed description of wartime Britain paints the perfect backdrop for this mystery where espionage, rationing and prejudice prevail. Robin Stevens’ knowledge of this era is evident throughout. Her notes at the end of the book outline lesser-known facts about WWII, providing thought provoking discussion points for an upper KS2 classroom.

The Ministry of Unladylike Activity is a welcome blend of historical fiction, mystery, and adventure which is sure to captivate KS2 readers. With its engaging plot, relatable characters, and attention to historical detail, it is a book that all can enjoy, including teachers and parents. It also offers plenty of opportunities for discussion and exploration, making it an excellent choice for classroom or individual reading. I, for one, cannot wait to find out where their next mission leads them. Highly recommended!