Justice Jones - review
Elly Griffiths is a sensational crafter of mysteries for adults, although I'd recommend her Ruth Galloway and Mephisto series for anyone wanting well written, intriguing crime novels with warmth and depth. So, it's a treat that she has finally written for children of approx 8+ I'd say, ideal for 8-12 basically, with the stunning series of Robin Stevens setting the scene and a few others writing mysteries for children, it's great that someone who has proven her class with her adult ones has now made the transition.
This is a brilliant book, set in the 1930s with clever hints of Christie and Blyton blended into a page turning romp through a Girl's boarding school on the Romney Marshes, it has so much to make it special.
But mostly the characters, Justice Jones has just started in Form 2 (Year 8 in our day) and recently lost her mother, who wrote the acclaimed Leslie Light mysteries, her father is a hardworking QC and he has a link to the school, Highbury House Boarding School for Daughters of Gentlefolk...
So we quickly get to know the Barn Owl boarders in their 'dormy' their feasting on tuck and whispered ghost stories, one about a girl who disappeared in the fog that can wrap the marsh in impenetrable mire and haunts the school as the Blonde Ghost and there is also whispers of a maid who may have been murdered...
We meet the teachers, all have their quirks and there is something connecting the headmistress to a case of Justice's father, she has read all his notes and often gets to sleep by replaying the key facts as she shivers under threadbare blankets in the freezing dorm. In fact the chill that grips the girls is a key part of showing us that even though this is a posh school, there aren't all the luxuries one might expect, the food they endure and the 'games' whatever the weather under the tutelage of Miss Thomas and her Lacrosse fixation are really apt views of just what life was like in the pre war times.
Justice does her best to fit in with Rose the dorm leader and the other girls, she soon finds that Stella is her new best friend and also tries to talk to the maid Dorothy who may just know what happened to the murdered Mary, there are plenty of after hours escapades in secret and fear of capture and why are some of the staff also creeping around in the dark?
Elly really writes beautifully, the flow of plot and description are exquisite, the subtle fear factor and peril are well used, she doesn't go over the top, she keeps it all nicely in keeping with a very real setting she has impeccably created, the little references to hair styles, reading matter, lack of modern technology and pace of life are done superbly. It is a rare skill to write now as though it was written then, not many can achieve that, really not many.
The only tiny caveat is it is I feel aimed more at girls reading, I enjoyed it a lot and I do hope any boys do read it, maybe a servant boy would have added that little bit of inclusion for both sets of readers. I am intrigued to find out who Peter is in the next instalment and that is no spoiler.
Deliciously drawn cover by Nan Lawson too! The little silver touches of filigree are fab and the weather motif works perfectly for the after dark shenanigans in the book.
Justice does her best to deal with her loss of her mum, her lack of seeing her dad and fitting into a strange and disciplined new world, Elly writes this social context beautifully, it's really involving. Just enough for any who want or need a view.
But we must congratulate Elly on her plot and characters, she has made us immediately fall in love with Justice and her determination and ingenuity, her journal and her analysis akin to Holmes and her mum's own Leslie Light too! She is a gem and I really hope has many adventures.
The best thing about this book is that the plot is involving but not too convoluted, it can be mulled over and yet is best just read and enjoyed, the characters become more alive (apart from the dead ones) as we read and finding out little secrets like teachers first names is always a treat.
The lack of heating is always well played on and the subtle mention of only the fire in the teachers common room and their double brandies keeping them warm, everywhere else is plagued by chill and snow. The snow is well used...
Justice initially starts with a map which becomes ever more useful and also her impeccable notions in her journal. There are lots of little things that may well come to fruition in future books, but everything is perfectly placed and written in this one.
I grew up reading Blyton and Christie and much more, my mum 'made me' read her favourites and I think that helps, as it does show that the plot and characters are universal really, my dad gave me Greene, Bond and Buchan and then Tolkien and Jaws! This has all the best parts of a Christie or a Buchan and yet the best thing is, Elly writes with such flair and pace that you aren't stilted back to the 30s you are whisked and swirled there and it becomes 'now'.
So, read and enjoy this excellent book and do read Elly's prodigious adult output, she's on tour soon, we will be with her in Bolton on Thu 6th June at 6pm do come.. or ORDER books in advance and she will dedicate/sign, we usually have a few after too...