The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
A Flavia de Luce Novel
Delacorte Press, 2014
From the back of the book: “On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luce’s crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office—and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gipsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit—Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer.”
This Flavia de Luce novel was a bit different from the rest – and it was because of that I found it difficult to get through. The previous three books were fun and exciting – even if it involved solving a murder. But this one, was dark and somber, mostly because it was centered on Harriet coming home. Harriet, who had been missing for ten years, had been found, long-since frozen on a Himalayan mountainside and the sudden realization that her mother was dead forever sent Flavia into an emotional tail spin of epic proportions. Her father, who had always been morose, and her spiteful sisters were also plunged even further into the depths of despair. This isn’t to say the book wasn’t excellent – it was – the subject of Harriet’s death and subsequent burial were unexpected and depressing.
The book did end on a positive note so that was good. The murder was caught and unfortunately killed in their escape (in a particularly spectacular way, only a teensy bit gruesome.) If you have trouble thinking about interacting with corpses, you may want to skip the part where Flavia opens her mother’s coffin and gives Harriet a kiss. At first I was troubled by Flavia’s plan to resurrect her mother from the dead with a chemical injection of thiamine and ATP (adenosine triphosphate), but then I remembered when you’re eleven, you believe anything is possible, and, especially because, “It was a brilliant idea, and because it was scientific, it simply could not fail.”
Speaking From Among the Bones
A Flavia De Luce Novel
Delacorte Press, 2013
From the back of the book: “Eleven-year-old amateur detective and ardent chemist Flavia de Luce is used to digging up clues, whether they’re found among the potions in her laboratory or between the pages of her insufferable sister’s diaries. What she is not accustomed to is digging up bodies. Upon the five-hundredth anniversary of Saint Tancred’s death, the English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey is busily preparing to open its patron saint’s tomb. Nobody is more excited to peek inside the crypt than Flavia, yet what she finds will halt the proceedings dead in their tracks: the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist, his face grotesquely and inexplicably masked. Who held a vendetta against Mr. Collicutt, and why would they hide him in such a sacred resting place? The irrepressible Flavia decides to find out. And what she unearths will prove there’s no such thing as an open-and-shut case.”
You’ve probably guessed by now that I am a fan of Flavia de Luce. She is funny, brilliant, bold and a real smart-a**. But she is also vulnerable to her sister’s vicious and hurtful attacks – so much so that she alternates between wanting to poison them and wanting to love them. She never really goes through with any of her diabolical plans, but it’s fun to read her plans for them. Her true love are poisons and she thinks about them all the time. I have to share this quote with you, it’s so “Flavia”: “Whenever I’m a little blue I think about cyanide, whose color so perfectly reflects my mood. It is pleasant to think that the manioc plant, which grows in Brazil, contains enormous quantities of the stuff in its thirty pound roots, all of which, unfortunately, is washed away before the residue is used to make our daily tapioca.”
In this book, Flavia cycles her way through the English countryside, crawls through an open grave into a tunnel that goes under the graveyard to the church and, of course, is almost killed (she rescues herself!). Through it all she keeps herself motivated even when the police tell her to stay away, when her sisters bring her to tears and her father forbids her to leave the house. The murder itself happens before the book opens, there are a couple acts of mild violence and some shocking news at the very end of the book (no spoilers!). As always, this book is for middle-grade readers of all ages, especially those who like strong female characters and cozy mysteries.
The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
A Flavia de Luce Mystery
Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House, 2010
From the inside front dust jacket: “Flavia de Luce, a dangerously brilliant eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders….finds herself untangling two deaths—separated by time but linked by the unlikeliest of threads. … Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets. Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations of the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Bronte’ sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is … the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help.”
After reading the first book in this series (The Sweetness as the Bottom of the Pie) I wasn’t too sure I’d read the rest – there was a lot of chemistry in the book and I’m not big on chemistry. But I decided to give it a go and I’m glad I did. Set in 1950s rural England, this book is full of charm and wit – and a good mystery that had me guessing until the end. This is the 2nd book but could easily stand alone. There are a brief mentions of the incidents in the previous book but thankfully, this book doesn’t stand on those shoulders. I love how Flavia talks to herself, offering encouragement along the way (“Bravo, old girl! You can do it!”). At home she has to contend with her older – and meaner – sisters, Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne), a mostly absent father, and the emotional-ghost of her long dead mother.
There are two murders, one in the past, one happens within the current timeline, but the details are neither gory or gruesome. There is some talk of illicit affairs, an unwed pregnancy, and the cultivation and partaking of “Indian hemp” (cannabis) – which I found very surprising but not offensive – at least to my sensibilities. This book is targeted toward middle grade readers but anyone can read it and enjoy trying to figure out the mystery.
If your middle-grader is looking for a good mystery with a brilliant female protagonist, this is the perfect book! Chemistry lessons included for free!!