RogerBW's Blog

Speaking from Among the Bones, Alan Bradley 10 June 2015

2013 cosy mystery, fifth in Bradley's series set in the early 1950s about child detective Flavia de Luce. The corpse of the angelic-looking young organist has been hidden in a saint's tomb that hasn't been opened for years. But how and why did he die?

This is a very polarising series, and if you don't get on with the narrator you won't enjoy it at all. Flavia is a self-willed girl of eleven, living with her father and two older sisters (mother died climbing a mountain in Tibet before the war), a chemical prodigy who specialises in poisons and an amateur sleuth. She's also thoroughly sure of herself while trying to show off just a little, and her voice is distinctive and advanced for her age (this is no young-adult book).

When they finally saw the light, I might even become something of a village heroine, with banquets, etc. held in my honor, with after-dinner speeches by Father, the vicar, the bishop, and, yes, perhaps even by Magistrate Ridley-Smith himself, thanking me for my dogged persistence, and so forth.

There's something of an anachronistic 'tween-wars sensibility to this book set in 1951, as if Flavia's world is still insulated from the changes the war has brought, but since the author's Canadian (and was born a few years before his heroine) one doesn't know how much of this is deliberate. This time there's also a surprising number of errors that Flavia as presented shouldn't make (there's no such thing as a degree Kelvin, and if there were it wouldn't work like that; and when you've identified a substance, you call it by its structural formula CO(NH2)2, not the mass-spectrometry-style CH4N2O). An editor ought to have caught these even if the author didn't.

The plot itself is reasonably solid if a bit slight: a corpse shows up where it shouldn't be, killed in a strange way. There are secret tunnels, bleeding statues of saints (no surprises here if you are familiar with the Rev. William Buckland), an ancient diamond, and an ether explosion. It all gets a bit pulpy at times, but seen through Flavia's pulp-inspired sensibility that's not unreasonable. The murderer's identity didn't seem to me to be sufficiently justified. Flavia remains in an ambiguous relationship with her foil Inspector Hewitt, and it would have been good to see some progress there.

A long-running background plot reaches its climax in this last line of this book, in pretty much the way I predicted when reading book one, so I feel quite happy about that.

This is not a good place to become acquainted with Flavia, but if you've enjoyed the earlier books I'd certainly recommend that you continue with this one. Followed by The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.

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