Sunday, January 19, 2014

THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES, Flavia de Luce comes of age in book 6!

Delacorte Press
$24.00 hardcover, available now

Rating: 3.9* of five

The Publisher Says: 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.

My Review: Childhood's end comes to each of us at very different times, and in very different ways, but always comes in a single moment. Nothing is ever the same again. No perception is unaltered, no thought is ever again innocent. One minute you are a child, and preoccupied with child things, and the next you are not.

It's memorable, I suspect, for all of us, no matter the event that precipitates it or the age at which it happens. In this sixth Flavia de Luce novel, she leaves childhood behind. Bradley's description of the moment, of a great wooden cog on a vast gear moving a notch, is spot-on. I can't quote it directly because it would spoiler a plot point.

Now let me address a fact of the series novel's life. Some books in a series are middle books, like middle children. They are there, but somehow not quite noticed enough or given a good space of their own to occupy. There is not a single series in which this is not, eventually, the case. Who remembers Framley Parsonage? Do you even know it's the fourth in Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire? When enumerating the series, I frequently have to search for this book in the Dead Letter Office of my brain. It's not as if nothing happens in the book, either. (And there's a character in this series names after a pivotal character in this book. More on that anon.) The marriages and the resultant intertwining of the fates of so many plot threads in the series make it a pivotal book. But who ever cites it as a favorite novel, or even a favorite in the series?

Middle Book Syndrome.

This is a middle book. It's not at all a bad book, just a middle book. And the fun is just beginning at the end. What the book is not is a mystery, in the puzzle-solving, here-are-the-clues sense. The mysteries Flavia is solving this time are, to put it simply and still not spoiler anything, the ones we all must resolve to discover what, now we are no longer children, we are. Flavia's extremely well-developed sense of herself, unusual in a child, is at last made part of a world that the girl must join. Herself is explained to herself, if you follow that convoluted thought process.

The world awaits. And that's a giant risk Bradley is taking: The world Flavia is joining will either cause people to put the series down for good, or will cause them to send him nastygrams for not writing faster. It is that polarizing a development.

I'm on the fence. I can see this going horribly wrong as we sink into the Swamps of Seriousness, and I can see it being amusingly fluffily unserious. But what I can't see is why this particular development surprised me so much. After all, an eleven-year-old sleuth isn't the set-up for a long-term cozy series, is it? So something had to tie the bow on the tushie of her childhood. And here it is. Heart it or hate it, the next books will not be the same kind of cotton candy, and won't be in the same world that child Flavia saw in Bishop's Lacey and Rook's End (there's a chess joke in that name which I only just got reading this book) and the Palings.

Having finished this book quite late last night, I was ruminating on its connection to Framley Parsonage and was struck by a thought: The character of Adam Sowerby, introduced earlier in the series, recurs here; and Sowerby is the name of a pivotal character in Framley Parsonage...could Bradley be creating his own corner and his own take on my dearly beloved Barsetshire? I have lamented in other threads the absence of a 21st-century Angela Thirkell, an extender of the deep and abiding Englishness of Barsetshire. Might Bradley, the Canadian, be weaving us some more tales from the rag ends of Trollope's beautiful creation?

Gosh, I hope so.


  1. Excellent review, my dear man. And now, of course, I'm on fire to read it...dang...caught again.

  2. I am hoping the next one comes out very soon!


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