Reviewed by Jeanne
Flavia de Luce, the pre-teen enfant terrible of chemistry, is thrilled to be returning to home to England after an unhappy sojourn in Canada at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, but her dreams of a warm family welcome are shattered with the news that her father is hospitalized with pneumonia. Visitors are limited, so Flavia goes to visit Cynthia, the vicar’s wife, by way of diversion. She’s promptly sent to deliver a message to Mr. Sambridge, the local wood-carver. When he fails to answer his door, Flavia—being Flavia—opens the door and discovers he’s been murdered.
And oh, how Flavia loves a good murder. . . .
The first thing she does, of course, is to carefully observe the scene, making all the deductions she possibly can about the crime, the victim, and clues as to the murderer. One thing jumps out at her: why would a grown man, a woodcarver with no apparent family, have a set of children’s books--multiple copies, in fact?
This is the eighth book in Bradley’s enjoyable Flavia de Luce novels, all of which revolve around the precocious Flavia who lives with her father and sisters at Buckshaw, the family’s badly neglected mansion. Flavia is a force of nature: headstrong, impulsive, brilliant, and analytical. She’s also a child, though she sees herself as an adult; for example, she views the police detective Inspector Hewitt as a colleague, though she sometimes thinks he’s a bit slow on the uptake. Her older sisters see her as more than a bit of a pest, while her father tends to be remote, locking himself away in his rooms with his stamp collection. Her greatest confidant is Dogger, who served and suffered with her father during WW II, and who treats her with kindness and deference (think a less sarcastic and less stable Jeeves.) Flavia’s imagination also tends to run a bit wild, but she is tenacious when she’s on the trail of a murderer.
I confess I found the previous book in the series to be a bit of a slog. I think it was having Flavia out of her element and missing the supporting cast of characters. This book is, for me, a return to the somewhat tongue in cheek mysteries I so enjoyed. In addition, I especially enjoyed the parts of the plot that had with do with the children’s books by Oliver Inchbald. This is a fictitious series, but parts bear a passing resemblance to A.A. Milne’s works and life. In fact, it seemed to me that more (real) books than usual were referenced in this one, which delighted me. I do love a good book reference.
This is a series which needs to be read in order; not only is Flavia growing up a bit in this one, but there are changes in the household along the way that have an impact on the characters, especially Flavia. As with several of the other books, this one ends at an emotional moment, making the reader anxious to see how the next story will unfold.