At her new school full of horsenappers, bootleggers, and jam thieves, Daphne becomes a detective.
When English schoolgirl Daphne arrives at the imposing gates bearing the legend “St. Rita’s School for Spirited Girls, est. 1873,” all she knows is that she’s been offered a scholarship and a job as an assistant librarian. There’s a crater in the driveway from an accident with stolen chemistry supplies and a massive hole in the dormitory floor made by a falling cannonball. The students (all apparently white) pick locks and forge Monets. As the deputy head explains, “you’d need to be bonkers in the noodle to want to be here. It’s a dreadful place!” Even Daphne’s job as assistant librarian is a mess: The gorgeous library is nearly empty after a fire that destroyed the old library, the head librarian who hired Daphne is on indefinite sick leave, and her replacement is a small girl who doesn’t seem inclined to trust Daphne. But somebody needs to solve all the skulduggery and shenanigans: break-ins, thefts, and even a missing student. The school is so odd that the mid-20th-century time period is easy to miss, and both the third-person narration that shifts between limited and omniscient and the narrative voice’s adult tone are similarly unmooring. Cartoonish illustrations by the author are comical but as slightly off as St. Rita’s itself.
Fans of David Walliams will enjoy the formulaic nonsense, but there’s no shortage of higher-quality slapstick mysteries for eager readers. (Mystery. 8-11)