I don’t normally review fiction, but I’m making an exception this time because there’s a new title in one of my favorite series that I would like to let everyone know about if they haven’t already heard about it. It’s Speaking from Among the Bones: a Flavia de Luce novel by C. Alan Bradley, fifth in the series.
All the books are written in the first person, told by Flavia herself. Flavia is a most unusual sleuth. She lives in a crumbling estate called Buckshaw Manse just outside a small English village in the early 1950’s. She’s eleven in the first book (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie), but has aged to twelve by the time we arrive at the fifth. The plots of the novels are distinctly secondary to the unique atmosphere of the books.
Flavia is, in years and in some ways, definitely a child. In other ways, she is advanced far beyond her years. The author manages to convey her naiveté about some matters along with her precocity amazingly well. Flavia loves chemistry. She is particularly fond of the chemistry of poisons—any and all kinds. She has a laboratory (left intact at her home by her deceased great uncle) where she conducts experiments and mixes up deadly concoctions. She frequently imparts plans to use said poisons on her two older sisters, who delight in tormenting her. Their mother was lost in a mountain climbing accident and Flavia was too young to remember her. One of their favorite tortures is telling her that she was left by the fairies or was adopted or whatever they think of to tell her she isn’t really part of the family. They aren’t very nice girls, to put it mildly.
Flavia’s father is a survivor of some evidently very bad times as a prisoner of war in World War I, along with Dogger who served with him and now works odd jobs on the estate and is Flavia’s best, well. . . only, friend. Dogger has episodes relating to his trauma during the war and is a bit of a mystery. He has a lot of medical knowledge, so perhaps he was a doctor. That, along with just about everything else about the household, is something that simply isn’t talked about, including the family’s extremely precarious financial position.
Other recurring characters include Inspector Hewitt and his men who represent the official investigations of the peculiar deaths that keep occurring with astonishing regularity in and around the village of Bishop’s Lacey. It’s a bit reminiscent of Miss Marple in that sense. Seems like someone would notice all the murders going on in those quiet little English villages!
Like Miss Marple and the dozens of other amateur sleuths that followed her, Flavia just can’t help stumbling upon bodies and discovering clues as to how and why they died. The mysteries are good and the means and methods of death are interesting but, again, it’s the telling of the tale that grabs the reader and draws him in. Whether you like mysteries or not, if you’re looking for an interesting character to read about you could do a lot worse then the tough-tender Miss Flavia de Luce.