Griffiths is an established and respected crime fiction writer for grown ups but has turned her knowledge and skill to include children’s mystery books and A Girl Called Justice focuses on a young female protagonist called Justice Jones in a historical boarding school setting and has the potential to grip the youngest MG readers up to adults with its intelligent and thrilling whodunnit.
Justice Jones is on her way to Highbury House, a boarding school for girls when a passing remark about a servant who recently died there piques her curiosity.
As the daughter of a famous barrister and her late mother a mystery author sleuthing is not just in her blood, it’s how she copes and as the days pass more comes to light that there are dangerous secrets until a snow storm cuts the school off with deadly consequences.
She heard her mother’s voice saying Screw your courage to the sticking place, and steeling herself, she knocked loudly on the door
Griffiths has hit the trend running with a 1930s boarding school setting piquing the attention of readers of Sophie Cleverly’s Scarlett & Ivy series, Robin Steven’s Murder Most Unladylike and classic or rebooted Malory Towers books.
But it doesn’t feel like a rehash or copy, this book has a gorgeously gloomy ennui about it, much like an adult murder mystery often does and you can almost smell the cold damp air and see the rain dribbling down window panes and breath misting the air in gloomy poorly lit rooms.
Justice Jones is an interesting little character, very thoughtful and intensely curious fighting the twin flames of a need to know the truth and a tangible grief with the very recent death of her mother whilst coping in a less than glamorous school setting.
No jolly hockey sticks here, more like a lacrosse stick to the shins it’s a rude awakening from more positive home from home (or in Potter’s case the first real home) MG literary depictions of boarding school as the school is not just dangerous for nefarious characters, it’s a stark stiff-upper-lip regime of icicles in the bathroom, cross country in the fog and severely unappetising meals amidst the gloom of the Great Depression and the moody often nasty world of desperately lonely tween girls.
Justice didn’t want to scare Stella, but she didn’t want to lie to her either. Unlike Rose and the other pupils of Highbury House, Justice had made a study of murder, and she was pretty sure it was no laughing matter.
The mystery itself is expertly crafted with Griffiths borrowing her skills from adult crime thrillers to put to excellent use here. I have read a lot of adult crime and mystery thrillers and I often guess early on from the subtle signposting. However, I didn’t guess here but it wasn’t due to a ‘pick the least likely who has shown no signs throughout the whole book but has secret motive’ style plotting. Oh no, looking back I could now see the hints which shows how brilliantly crafted this book is with clever details, secret and subtle nudges and red herrings to keep you thinking.
This book is such a wonderfully enthralling mystery that has gripped my mind and my heart, plus it has probably the most positive depiction of Home education in any children’s fiction I’ve read so far as the brilliant Justice Jones was home educated by her very capable and loving mother to a very high level but child centred.
Justice doesn’t quite appreciate how bright she is until she meets her peers so is lacking snobbery but she is still a tween and Griffiths doesn’t forget this in Justice’s narration with a slight innocence or unreliability due to her lack of experience and personal mindset. We see this in the jealousy and peer aggression she experiences from some of the girls displeased by her arrival and the bitter pain she feels is a really powerful point for empathy and resonance with readers.
I thoroughly enjoyed this for the way it has brought elements of style and craft from adult crime thriller but with childhood innocence to the MG mystery and I look forward to more in this series and I may well pick up some of Griffiths’ grown up books too.
A Girl Called Justice by Elly Griffiths is published by Quercus/Hachette.