Meet H.M. Hardcastle, Author of the “Principles of Detection”
Living in Victorian England (the village of Swinburne, to be exact), Myrtle Hardcastle is not like other Young Ladies of Quality. Instead, she is a precocious twelve-year-old with a passion for justice and an unconventional obsession with criminal science. When her next-door neighbor, Miss Wodehouse (a wealthy and eccentric breeder of rare lilies) dies under mysterious circumstances, Myrtle seizes the chance to prove her investigative skills. With the help of her governess, Miss Judson (a firm believer in the Socratic method of learning), Myrtle is determined to prove it was murder and solve the crime, even when no one else listens or believes her!
About the Reader
Bethan Rose Young is a professional actress with an MA degree who trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. She has worked for the BBC, History Channel/Netflix, and the award winning Frantic Assembly.
Clues as to Why the Audiobook is so Good
First, the book itself is witty and entertaining. Like with all good mystery novels, Bunce manages to keep the perfect level of mystery and intrigue throughout. And while murder is afoot, there is no overtly gruesome or scary depictions. Perfect for Grades 5 through 8, but even younger audiences will be able to enjoy the audio version.
That said, the audio presentation brings the text to life. Each character’s voice is easily distinguished, and Young does an excellent job with the different dialects and accents. From the gardener Mr. Hamm’s Yorkshire accent to the American accent of the deceased’s niece, Miss Pricilla Wodehouse, each is distinguishable and well done. Even the intelligent and knowing “meows” of Peony the cat are quite expressive.
Most importantly, Young captures the tone of the various characters as well as the tone of the book. This is especially true with Myrtle’s first-person narrative. At the in-between-age of twelve, Myrtle’s wide range of emotions sometimes overwhelm her detective genius, and all of it is captured in this lively reading.
The audiobook is unabridged, and the only change to the text is the thoughtful use of “dear listener” instead of “dear reader.” Another important quality of the audiobook is the clarification of Myrtle’s footnotes throughout. For each footnote, Young announces “footnote,” and ends with “end of footnote,” seamlessly integrating them into the main text. Chapters are numbered and begin with a quote from H.M. Hardcastle’s “Principles of Detection.” The quotes provide clues as to what will follow.
The novel speaks for itself, so there is no need for music or other sound effects (except for Peony’s meaningful “meows”) to engage listeners. In fact, the use of such devices would have detracted from the performance. The same holds true for the use of a single voice actor. Young is so good at switching between characters, one is lead to believe that a cast of voice characters might have sidetracked the story.
As with most of today’s recorded books, the sound quality is excellent. I listened to the MP3 version through Libby (the library reading app), but the audiobook is also available on Playaway and CD. There are currently four books in the Myrtle Hardcastle Mystery series, and the fifth book, Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity, comes out October 24, 2023.
Although the audiobook did not received any awards, here’s the scoop on the written version: ♦ 2021 Edgar® Award Winner (Best Juvenile); ♦ A Book Page Best Book of 2020: Middle Grade ♦ A Mighty Girl’s 2020 Books of the Year ♦ Society of Midland Authors Honored Book ♦ Indie Next Pick ♦ Amazon Editor’s Choice ♦ Agatha Award Finalist ♦ Anthony Award Finalist
What Mystery Will You Listen to Next?
If you enjoy Premeditated Myrtle, consider listening to The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling (HarperAudio, 2010) by Maryrose Wood, read by Katherine Kellgren (1969 – 2018). Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children. Alexander, about age ten, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, maybe four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.
Fortunately, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only 15 years of age and a recent graduate of the “Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females,” Penelope immediately embraces the challenge of her new charges. But before she can teach them Latin verbs, she and the Incorrigibles will need to solve some of the many mysteries at Ashton Place.
Or if you’d like to listen to the adventures of another plucky young detective, try The Case of the Missing Marquess: an Enola Holmes Mystery (Recorded Books, 2008) by Nancy Springer, also read by Katherine Kellgren. Fourteen year old Enola, the younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes, has just learned of her beloved mother’s disappearance.
As she journeys to find her mother (constantly eluding her brothers who think she belongs in boarding school), Enola solves a few missing persons cases along the way. You’ve probably heard of the Netflix series starring Millie Bobbie Brown, but the books are even better, especially with Ms. Kellgren’s dynamic performance!