Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches - Alan Bradley

Summary:  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 Luces' 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 Gypsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit - Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer. (Image and summary from

My Review:   Just over two years ago, a friend of mine suggested a book with a funny title, telling me I'd fall in love.  I did. I loved Flavia's tenacity, her intelligence, and her loneliness only served to endear her to me.  I wanted to have tea with the little stinker and be the nice big sister she deserved.  Since then, I've eagerly awaited Bradley's next installment, and (unlike other series as of late) they have stayed as fresh and as exciting as the first.  Honestly, why I haven't bought the whole series is beyond me.

The mood for this book was completely different - and it was set at the end of Flavia's last exploits.  Her mother, lost in Asia toward the end of the Second World War, has been found and is coming home.  Her father, always such an enigma, is beside himself at the prospect of finally needing to bury and say goodbye to the love of his life.  The threat of losing her home-worse, her lab-is no longer a threat - it's reality.  Top that off with relatives, acquaintances, and villagers descending en masse, and poor Flavia, who knows that there should be rules for how to behave, but no one bothered to teach her, finds herself adrift.  Geniuses should never be set adrift, as it gives our heroine the chance to concoct a plan to resurrect her mother.

Bradley's writing so perfectly fitted the tone of the book.  I very much felt Flavia's fear, loss, and yet her confusion as well as to the circumstances that present themselves.  There is mystery - as always - but Bradley has completely redirected the series by giving it new subtleties, new intrigues, and new challenges, all before the current formula even threatened to become stale.  My head frankly spun with the information I was handed.  Not only were loose ends sufficiently tied up, but so much new information to digest was served up!  I'm excited to see where the series will head next, but it had better not take too long!

My Rating: Five stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Two murders, the second more gruesome and shocking than the first.

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