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.

[Buy this at Amazon] and help support the blog. ["As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases."]

Previous in series: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows | Series: Flavia de Luce

  1. Posted by Paul Blackwell at 06:08pm on 11 February 2021

    This is a comment on a much older post: (I hope I'm not taking your instructions on late comments over-literally.)

    Anyway... in that post, you mention a couple of scientific errors in the book, one of them being "there's no such thing as a degree Kelvin". I looked on wikipedia - because I was curious about the details of definition & usage, not because I had any doubts - and it's possible that it's not so clear cut. According to the second paragraph at the term "degree Kelvin" was valid usage until the late 1960s, and so at the time the book was set. I may well be missing something, or wikipedia may simply be wrong about this (though a cursory look at the sources cited seems to support it), but I thought it worth flagging.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 06:11pm on 11 February 2021

    Thanks, Paul!

    Given Bradley's general laxity I suspect this may be coincidence, but now I know a thing I didn't know a few minutes ago, so that's good.

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1