If there is a corpse to be found in the quiet village of Bishop’s Lacey, you can depend on England’s most precocious and incorrigible 11-year-old sleuth, Flavia de Luce, to stumble over it.
It is a week before Easter, and the flamboyant Mr. Collicutt, organist for St. Tancred’s Church, has suddenly vanished, throwing the church and the village into a frenzy. It is the 500th anniversary of the burial of the church’s patron saint, Saint Tancred, whose remains lie in a vault beneath the choir loft. The church has planned to open the crypt, sanctify the remains for display, and hold an Easter pageant in honor of the saint. Ophelia de Luce, Flavia’s pious eldest sister and assistant organist, has been promoted to perform the musical duties if the missing organist doesn’t reappear. She has been rehearsing day and night when she notices that one of the small flute pipes is off key. Flavia, who is at the church under orders from her father (he disapproves of one of his daughter’s wandering around an empty church alone at night because of earlier disturbances in the village), guesses that a bat has made its way into the organ pipe and offers to go in search of the intruder. Creeping through the underground crypt where the pipes are located, Flavia finds more than a bat, and the adventure begins.
"Alan Bradley has created an utterly charming cast of characters with this series.... Flavia de Luce, Gladys (the bicycle), and the Bishops Lacey police department will help you decipher whodunit in delightfully traditional British style."
Alan Bradley has created an utterly charming cast of characters with this series. The opening installment, SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE, landed a fistful of prestigious awards and shot to the top of the bestseller lists in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. Since then, Bradley has produced four more volumes featuring this fiendishly brilliant young lady. The novels have been published in 35 countries and appeared in 31 languages; in fact, Flavia has fan clubs as far flung as Croatia and Australia. Variety, the show business trade paper, announced last May that the BBC has it under consideration for a TV series.
Why all the attention? Flavia lives with her widowed father and two sinister older sisters in Buckshaw Manse, the ancestral home of the titled de Luce family. The setting is 1951 in post-WWII England in a sleepy little village still struggling to recover from the war. Buckshaw, with its once magnificent ballroom, luxurious bedrooms, library, servants’ quarters, walk-in fireplaces and grand staircases, is slowly sinking as the mounting debt rises and the family fortune slips away. Flavia occupies the abandoned, drafty east wing of the crumbling mansion by choice, as it contains access to an attic laboratory once used by her deceased uncle, a scientific genius. She has inherited his tools of trade and his brilliant mind, and, undisturbed by the rest of her more traditional family, is fast developing a passion for poisons.
Her sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, live with their grieving father in the rest of the manse, tended to by the family cook and a kindly but war-damaged gardener. The girls’ mother, Harriet, disappeared in the Alps on a skiing trip when Flavia was a baby, and is presumed dead. Since the estate and its fortune came through her family, their father is left to his stamp collection, his daughters, and managing what’s left of the estate, which didn’t transfer because of lack of a last will. (England’s convoluted inheritance laws have baffled many non-Brits and provided a vast wealth of plots for writers for decades, if not centuries.) Flavia’s sisters make her life miserable, calling her a foundling or, worse, a quisling left by gypsies; when they are not tormenting her, they ignore her. Left to her own devices, Flavia bounces around the village on her faithful bicycle, Gladys, which seems to have a personality of its own. Each character is richly developed and is as quirky as any British mystery fan could hope for.
If you haven’t dipped into the earlier books, you will be delighted. Each is able to stand alone, but why deprive yourself? Flavia de Luce, Gladys (the bicycle), and the Bishops Lacey police department will help you decipher whodunit in delightfully traditional British style.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 31, 2013