by Amanda Hampson

Publisher: Penguin Random House, 2024

Publisher’s blurb

Look who’s back in hot water! The highly anticipated new novel in The Tea Ladies mystery series, a runaway bestseller of the year. Ideal for fans of Richard Osman and Bonnie Garus. 

In ZigZag Lane, in the heart of Sydney’s rag-trade district, tea ladies Hazel, Betty and Irene find themselves in hot water. Having already solved a murder, kidnapping and arson case, and outwitting an arch criminal, they have proved themselves a useful resource and earned the respect of a local police officer. Now he needs their help to solve a plot that threatens security. 
As if that’s not enough, Irene gets a coded message directing her to the spoils of a bank robbery, which sends the tea ladies on a treasure hunt with an unexpected outcome.

There’s also trouble brewing within the walls of Empire Fashionwear, where an interloper threatens not just Hazel’s job but the very role of tea lady. It’s up to Hazel to convince her friends to abandon their trolleys and take action to save their livelihoods – before it’s too late.


by Lesley Vick

Readers first met Amanda Hampson’s older and very capable sleuthing tea ladies last year in The Tea Ladies and they are back again with new mysteries to solve. These characters – commonsense Hazel, cynical and rough around the edges Irene, and well-meaning Betty – are working class women whose combined attributes make them a formidable team for solving mysteries. They work and live in the rag trade district of inner-city Surry Hills in Sydney in the 1960s, a time of great social change.

 Some readers will be old enough to remember when offices had tea ladies who were both recipients and purveyors of gossip – which is useful information for sleuthing. Unlike the other factory workers they had access to all the socially stratified floors of the factory – better biscuits for the upper floors where management works! As a sharp observer with relatively progressive attitudes Hazel gets to overhear important conversations. The now long-gone garment-making factories of the inner city are brought to life in the book, as are the social, technological, fashion and political upheavals of the era. All these issues play a part in the story, as well as historical events including the controversy surrounding the building of the Sydney Opera House.  

The status of women at home, in the workplace and in broader society was changing significantly in the 1960s. The tea ladies’ jobs were threatened by modern changes when cafe bars began replacing the tea trolley. In The Cryptic Clue the indomitable tea ladies start a guild (a sort of embryonic union) in an attempt to protect their jobs. Meanwhile, the whole garment making sector with its old-fashioned elaborate clothing is under threat from modern outfits for working women. Mary Quant-style garments were both cheaper and easier to make, despite those miniskirts causing quite a stir. These rapid changes cause tensions, rivalries and possible dangers within the garment factories.

Other significant social and personal changes also engender mysteries to be solved. What is going on at the local priests’ home and who are the two men from Ireland who are staying there? Hazel is concerned about her neighbour’s daughter who has gone to work there. Hazel had a previous devastating experience with a man, but now another one has come into her life – a sound engineer from Denmark who is working on the Opera House. But can he be trusted? Does the growing public controversy over the building of the Sydney Opera House have any implications for national security given the political unrest of the time?  Irene has a coded message from her late safecracker husband which may mean a windfall if the code is cracked. And can Irene’s lockpicking skills learned from him help solve any of their mysteries? The impending introduction of decimal currency is another unsettling change. Another tea lady, the slightly uppity Merl, is more of hindrance than a help in their investigations with her misguided admiration for her son-in-law, a police officer in Kings Cross, a station known as a notorious hotbed of corrupt coppers.

This book is a great read with engaging characters, interesting mysteries satisfactorily resolved within the momentous social changes of the Swinging Sixties. There is much to laugh about along the way and many reminders of the enduring importance of friendship.