Genre: Adult Mystery/Suspense
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release date: February 5 2013
Source: eBook from publisher via NetGalley
In a word: charming, quirky, pitch-perfect dialog, and unforgettable characters
I had brought with me one of my favorite lock-picking tools: a set of my wire dental braces which I had ruined forever last summer by putting them to good use for a similar purpose at Greyminster School. Those and a bent pickle fork—which nobody, I hoped, would ever miss—were all that a person would ever need to open nearly every lock in Christendom.
What happens when you combine a young lock-picking sleuth who has a knack for discovering dead bodies and mixing poisons (and is especially fond of cyanide), with an atmospheric setting in a cozy English hamlet in the 1950s? You get a Flavia de Luce mystery by Alan Bradley, of course. Bradley’s fifth book in the series was a trip down memory lane for me, because it’s been a few years since I read one of his books. I was immediately thrust back into the quirky and über-intelligent mind of eleven-year-old Flavia and the wonderful characters of Bishop’s Lacey. The setting: a centuries-old church. The murder site: the pipe room of the church’s huge old pipe organ. The outcome: a humorous and layered tale that is much more than a simple murder mystery.
St. Tancred, who died 500 years ago and was entombed in the bowels of St. Tancred’s Church, is about to be exhumed, but not everyone in town is happy about the decision. After all, who knows what you’ll find when you dig up a 500-year-old body? But Flavia is thrilled about the idea and is determined to be there when it happens. When the tomb is opened, however, instead of the old bones of St. Tancred, they find the dead body of one Mr. Collicutt, clutching a broken glass tube and wearing a gas mask. While the Inspector and the police try desperately to find the killer, Flavia sets off on her own investigation, making several startling discoveries along the way.
Flavia is a dream character. Not only does she end up solving the murder, but she uncovers some of the better kept secrets in the village while doing so. You may wonder how a girl with little supervision who spends her spare time alone in her musty attic bedroom mixing poisons can be the most endearing character in the book, but she manages to do it. Flavia has a way of getting away with everything and then lying about it afterwards, and she doesn’t let the English rain or the four walls of her decrepit estate keep her from riding all over the village on her trusty bicycle Gladys, hunting for clues along the way. She’s surrounded by many other wonderful characters, including Buckshaw’s caretaker Dogger, who Flavia is particularly fond of, and the intriguing Mr. Sowerby, a man who claims to be an archeologist but turns out to be a detective.
While things wrap up neatly at the end, Bradley does throw in a bit of a cliff-hanger that cleverly sets up Flavia and company for the next installment. You don’t necessarily have to read all the books in order to enjoy them, although the author does occasionally mention past events from other books. Even though I missed a couple of the previous stories, I had no problem enjoying this self-contained tale.
The best part of Flavia’s story, for me anyway, is the way the murder mystery takes a back seat to the rest of the drama that swirls around the residents of Bishop’s Lacey. There is a murder that needs to be solved, but the focus of Bradley’s books is the human element and the things that happen on the way to solving it. With Flavia as your guide, you wouldn’t want it any other way.
Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Don’t miss the other Flavia de Luce books: