Goodreads: Premeditated Myrtle
Series: Myrtle Hardcastle #1
Source: ARC from Edelweiss
Published: October 6, 2020
Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle is studying to be an Investigator. So when her next-door neighbor Ms. Wodehouse suddenly dies, Myrtle puts herself on the case. The police are convinced that Ms. Wodehouse died from natural circumstances. But Myrtle’s Observations lead her to conclude that something sinister happened the night of the death. Can a Young Lady of Quality solve a crime no one believes happened?
The middle-grade Victorian cozy mystery is a perhaps underrated genre–but it is one of my favorites. I can’t help but fall in love with the formula over and over again: the irrepressible girl detective, flouting societal norms; the bumbling police officers; the fight for female intelligence to be acknowledged in a man’s world. In Premeditated Myrtle, Elizabeth C. Bunce brings together all the delightful tropes, and weaves them into a story that feels comfortably familiar, yet also just a little bit new. Fans of Victorian mysteries will not want to miss out on this exciting start to a new series.
Premeditated Myrtle begins just as one would expect it to. Our heroine Myrtle chafes against society’s expectations as a Young Lady of Quality. She prefers studying criminology over having tea with girls of her own age. She likes sensible clothes that allow her to ride her bike, and she loves pockets that allow her to collect specimens. She even has the sassy narrative voice commonly adopted by protagonists in middle grade Victorian cozy mysteries–you know the one. However, as the story progresses, Bunce surprises by drawing the attention away from Myrtle and towards the people who surround her.
One might have assumed that Myrtle would want to be the star in her own story, but Myrtle’s strength lies in her ability to form a team–even if she might not call it that herself. Her governess Ms. Judson plays a key role in her adventures, taking her seriously when no one else will and providing pertinent observations. Others, however, seem inevitably drawn into Myrtle’s circle, perhaps because they love her or maybe because she shows them a world they could never have imagined otherwise. I was inspired to see how Myrtle formed a core group of women who supported each other and used their wits to solve a crime the police could not. Historical fiction books like this sometimes seem weighted disproportionately with men, as if to emphasize how marginalized the women are in their society. But Bunce’s book is weighted with women with agency–they do not allow society to circumscribe them.
Of course, any reader of mystery wants to know how mysterious the book actually is. In this case, I guessed the culprit early on, but that did nothing to lessen my enjoyment. The pleasure of Premeditated Myrtle is watching Myrtle find and weigh the evidence, as well as watching her navigate her personal relationships as she pursues her unconventional hobby. Even so, there are enough red herrings that one could reasonably begin to second guess themselves–as I did–and I believe the intended target audience will find the mystery perplexing.
Premeditated Myrtle is a delightful read, made even more enjoyable by its wonderfully sympathetic cast of characters. Myrtle and her friends, more than anything, make me want to go on another adventure with them. So, if you love Victorian cozy mysteries, give this one a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed.