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Serial of champions – Flavia de Luce series wins again

It does not seem like it, but five years have passed since the first book in the Flavia de Luce series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, came out and caught my heart.

Flavia, still 11 years old (almost 12) after all these years, has been an annual delight

  • The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie (2009)
  • The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (2010)
  • A Red Herring Without Mustard (2011)
  • I Am Half Sick of Shadows (2011)
  • Speaking From Among the Bones (2013)
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (2014)

Alan Bradley, who was born in Toronto, has hit on a formula that brings this reader back for more – an 11-year-old chemistry whiz living in a crumbling manor in England solves mysteries for the local police, dodges the daggers of disdain and dislike issuing from her two older sisters (one a face in the mirror otherwise found at the piano and the other an obsessive reading fixture in the library), and pines for her mother, Harriet, who went missing while mountain-climbing when Flavia was but a baby. Her father seems to love nothing but his stamp collection, and a dogsbody named Dogger keeps the family largely on course with the help of a hapless housekeeper whose meals resemble nothing so much as stone soup.

Dogger alternates between shell-shock and lucidity, and is prone to screaming nightmares from the war years. He and the father were prisoners of war in Japan, and they will not willingly discuss this.

bradley coverOddness marks the series, which for those of us who read books written in series fashion is good news indeed. The characters move on their obsessions, away from love, and the books themselves are a smaller format, have no dust jackets, and bear titles borrowed from the works of English poets.

Another oddness is that a white middle-aged male writer can write in the voice of and inhabit the mind and heart of an adolescent girl. You have to see it to believe it, but Bradley does the job well.

Flavia has an entire wing of the manor to herself. She has a laboratory and a bedroom the size of two banana republics. The books about Flavia are crawling their way through 1951, and the village of Bishop’s Lacey though small as a church mouse is able to provide murder after murder for the precocious child’s consideration.

Bradley provides abundant and arresting detail about the chemistry involved in the stories. That is part of the fun.

I did say that Flavia is precocious, didn’t I?

If you know the series, you will be glad to know that the latest title is the best since the first one, and if you do not know the series, I recommend that you fix that, by reading either the first or the last book – then all the rest.

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