This review contains spoilers for the previous book.
This is book 6 of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mysteries. In Speaking from Amongst the Bones, the previous book, Flavia solves the murder of the church organist Mr Collicut—killed and hidden in the crypt of St Tancred, the patron saint of their village Bishop’s Lacey. At the end though there is a shocking revelation—Flavia’s mother—lost on a mountaineering trip when Flavia was just one—has been found.
In this book, we learn what that revelation means. Flavia has been living in Bishiop’s Lacey with her two older sisters Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely), their father Col Haviland de Luce, a former pow in the second world war, and Dogger who had saved the Col’s life in the army and now serves them in various capacities. The family has been living in Buckshaw their family home which was owned by Harriet but as she was missing and had left no will, there was no indication what becomes of it. Money is tight and the family must consider selling the house. Flavia, though eleven (twelve or nearly twelve in this one) is an amateur chemist with access to her uncle Tar’s laboratory, and has a rather keen interest in poisons—she even has a ‘poison’-based alphabet. She has so far used this knowledge of chemistry to solve various murders in the village.
In this one when the family is waiting for Harriet at the station, a tall stranger approaches Flavia and charges her with delivering a rather strange message to her father. And before she even knows what’s happening the stranger falls to his death in front of the train, most likely pushed. And with it Flavia once again has a mystery on her hands. Alongside there are other things occupying he attention, her mother and what happened all those years ago.
This book was actually very different from the previous books in the series, and also gives the series an entirely new direction. But at the same time it also preserves the flavour of the earlier books as Flavia as always, returns to her chemistry lab for the answer to whatever problems are plaguing her, in this case to do with her mother. She also has to deal with some relations who have popped up (whom she knew nothing of before), and who are not the most endearing of people. Because of all this, the murder the book starts with stays mostly on the sidelines for much of the book.
It was interesting to see the author trying to give the series a different direction (than just a young girl solving murders in her village), and with it now, Flavia is also set to go to new places. We also learn some secrets from the de Luces’ past, a little of what Dogger did for Flavia’s father in the war, and of course the story of what happened to her mother all those years ago. There was even a rather surprising visitor when the train with Harriet arrives. I enjoyed the book overall but my only complaint was while the stranger’s death is solved, it doesn’t get as much attention in the book as I’d have expected/liked it to.
Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to your thoughts!