Premeditated Myrtle

Myrtle Hardcastle Mysteries Book I

Algonquin Young Readers | October 6, 2020
ISBN 9781616209186 | 368 pp | Grades 5-13

Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle has a passion for justice and a Highly Unconventional obsession with criminal science. Armed with her father’s law books and her mum’s microscope, Myrtle studies toxicology, keeps abreast of the latest developments in crime scene analysis, and Observes her neighbors in the quiet Victorian village of Swinburne, England.

When her next-door neighbor, a wealthy spinster and eccentric breeder of rare flowers, dies under Mysterious Circumstances, Myrtle seizes her chance. With her unflappable governess, Miss Ada Judson, by her side, Myrtle takes it upon herself to prove Miss Wodehouse was murdered and solve the crime, even if nobody else believes her — not even her father, the town prosecutor.

“In the tradition of Flavia de Luce and Harriet the Spy, Myrtle is a fine example of the Victorian scientific female-smart, inquisitive and fearless.
Written with a terrific mixture of humor and suspense Premeditated Myrtle is a perfect read for any budding detective.”

-Rhys Bowen, New York Times bestselling author of the Royal Spyness and Molly Murphy mysteries 

★ BOOKLIST, starred review: “There is something afoot at Redgraves, the house neighboring Myrtle Hardcastle’s own, which is why the precocious 12-year-old took it upon herself to phone the police. Myrtle is quite sure that something dastardly has occurred, but she is thrilled when the crime appears to be murder—not that anyone else is calling it that, yet. After the body of cranky old Miss Wodehouse is removed from its last earthly bubble bath, the cause of death is pronounced to be heart failure; or, if you’re Myrtle, heart failure due to poisoning. Myrtle’s above-average intellect, passions for justice and science (an endearing blend of her parents’ professions), fondness for detective stories, and predilection for asking questions make her the perfect person to investigate what is obviously a crime most foul. Written very much in the style of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries, Myrtle’s spirited investigation—aided by her governess, who champions the Socratic method of learning—is a joyful thing to behold. Well-crafted red herrings throw Myrtle and readers alike for a loop or two, and an old story about a rare and precious flower grows some very real roots as details about Miss Wodehouse emerge. Set in Victorian England, this mystery gleefully overturns sexist norms and celebrates independent women of intellect, with Myrtle Hardcastle leading the charge.”

★ BOOKPAGE, starred review: “When Myrtle Hardcastle’s elderly neighbor dies, she suspects foul play, but her concerns are dismissed. Still, you can’t deter a 12-year-old with a passion for forensics and a governess generally inclined to take her side. Premeditated Myrtle is a book young readers will love and adults may well sneak out of backpacks and off of nightstands for their own enjoyment.

Set in a small English village in the late 1800s, Elizabeth Bunce’s first book for middle grade readers charmingly evokes the spirit of Harriet the Spy, if Harriet were a bit more inclined toward afternoon tea. Myrtle has an investigator’s tool kit and access to her prosecutor father’s law library; she is curious to a fault, brave and persistent. Bunce keeps secondary characters grounded in reality as well—even a cat has an interesting character arc—and the quest to determine who killed Miss Wodehouse is as keenly plotted as the best adult cozy. Readers will encounter plentiful red herrings along with lessons in jurisprudence, and Myrtle helpfully defines period-specific language via chatty footnotes.

Myrtle faces down scary moments, such as being locked in a coroner’s office as a prank, by leaning into her curiosity. Her frustration with her father and governess, Ms. Judson, who maintain professional boundaries despite a clear attraction to one another, speaks to the affection she clearly feels toward both—even as she rolls her eyes. Their household is warm, and a through-line about the cook who perpetually attacks the stove in an attempt to fix it will make readers feel like part of the family. Here’s hoping for more adventures with this delightful, heroic protagonist.”

HORN BOOK: “This clever and lively Victorian English village murder mystery starring precocious twelve-year-old fledgling detective Myrtle Hardcastle has all the trappings: households with cooks and governesses and groundskeepers; church luncheons and afternoon teas; mysterious newcomers; missing wills. Also, poisoned elderly ladies. Myrtle’s discovery that her neighbor, Miss Wodehouse, did not die of natural causes but was murdered leads to a story filled with spying, deduction, false accusations, red herrings, and danger. Bunce does an excellent job of making Myrtle the lead actor but gives her a strong set of (mostly female) supporters, including her beloved governess, Miss Judson; the family cook; a surprise-twist-at-the-end ally; and one very vocal cat. Myrtle’s single-mindedness in solving the murder… is made sympathetic due to her fraught relationship with her kind but sometimes disapproving prosecutor father, her grief over her mother’s death from cancer, and her fervent wish that her father now fall in love with the estimable Miss Judson. Myrtle’s narration is Arch with a capital A (“Dear Reader, kindly permit me to pause to properly introduce one of the Key Players in this narrative”), but it suits the novel’s setting and subgenre to a T. The last page all but promises a sequel.”

BULLETIN OF THE CENTER FOR CHILDREN’S BOOKS:  “Twelve-year-old Myrtle Hardcastle is an amateur investigator in Swinburne, England in 1893, the daughter of a renowned prosecutor. When her botanist neighbor drops dead, Myrtle is sure there’s been foul play—and with the help of her governess, Miss Judson, she will uncover the mystery behind who killed Miss Wodehouse and why. Bunce crafts a truly captivating murder mystery, throwing in a delicious mix of twists, red herrings, and relatives excluded from the family fortune. Miss Judson and Myrtle work as a power duo, with Myrtle offering up big ideas and Judson giving those ideas practical applications. Myrtle is an entertaining protagonist, not afraid to get her hands dirty, sneak into mansions after dark to find a clue, or call out sexism of men toward her scientific interests or the racism toward her governess. Much of the cast have grand, exaggerated personalities that contribute to the humor (Priscilla, the deceased’s niece, is particularly prone to sensationalism). With its snarky footnotes (a reticule is described as a “dainty little bag, wholly impractical for collecting specimens”) and riveting schemes, the book will make readers yearn for more of Myrtle’s (mis)adventures.

KIRKUS: “An aspiring sleuth in Victorian England is convinced her neighbor’s death was no accident. Twelve-year-old Myrtle, who might have just been spying—er, Observing!—the neighborhood with her telescope, is convinced that prickly Miss Wodehouse has been the victim of foul play. Though the police say the old lady had a heart attack, Myrtle disagrees. With her magnifying lens, her specimen jars, and her stubbornness, Myrtle will prove the old lady was killed—and find the murderer, to boot. Though unpopular Myrtle leans in to a self-image as “the precocious daughter who lurked about everywhere being impertinent and morbid,” she has allies. Her interest in detecting comes from her affection for her adoring prosecutor father and the memory of her medical-student mother. Myrtle, middle-class and white, is encouraged by her equally quirky and exceedingly clever governess, Miss Judson (the multilingual, biracial daughter of white British and black French Guianese parents), who is at best half-hearted in her attempts to keep Myrtle out of trouble. Meanwhile, Caroline, a British Indian girl who’s been mean before, disassociates herself from Myrtle’s bully and becomes a staunch and equally geeky friend. Witty prose… keeps the characters accessible and quite charming while Myrtle (surrounded by beloved and supportive adults) avoids many of the more tired tropes of the eccentric-detective genre. A saucy, likable heroine shines in a mystery marked by clever, unexpected twists. (Historical mystery. 10-12)