Tag: Flavia de Luce mystery series

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

Book Summary

In the wake of an unthinkable family tragedy, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is struggling to fill her empty days. For a needed escape, Dogger, the loyal family servant, suggests a boating trip for Flavia and her two older sisters. As their punt drifts past the church where a notorious vicar had recently dispatched three of his female parishioners by spiking their communion wine with cyanide, Flavia, an expert chemist with a passion for poisons, is ecstatic.

Suddenly something grazes against her fingers as she dangles them in the water. She clamps down on the object, imagining herself as Ernest Hemingway battling a marlin, and pulls up what she expects will be a giant fish. But in Flavia’s grip is something far better: a human head, attached to a human body. If anything could take Flavia’s mind off sorrow, it is solving a murder–although one that may lead the young sleuth to an early grave.

What I Thought

I am in love with Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery series, and the nostalgia they invoke in me for an era that still had a certain rawness to it, just after WWII. Where people still lived in quaint villages, could go to a greengrocer and buy a pound of carrots, nip across the road to a real chemist and buy arsenic or cyanide by the ounce—to kill rats, you understand—and then pop to the local for a pint in the evening.

This time, the people and, indeed, the countryside itself, are all depicted with a sharp eye, and the droll, wry, observations are spot on.

If these stories had been written when I was a teenager growing up, I would have dreamed of being Flavia. For a 12 year-old, Flavia is not your average teen. Not by a long shot. She’s super smart when it counts, childish when she needs to be, and is relentlessly inquisitive beyond an adult’s endurance. The only one who can keep up with her is dear, old faithful, Dogger. A great character in and of himself, as well.

But then, so are all the characters Bradley populates his stories with. Each an eccentric in his or her own right. Wonderfully described down to the last detail. And like in any good Agatha Christie mystery, everyone plays a part in the story, one way or another, from key witness through to red herring. They’re all there for a reason.

There is some sharp, witty dialogue, especially between Flavia and Dogger, and between Flavia and Constable Otter—the PC Plod leading the main investigation. Bradley really has a great feel for his MC, who shines whenever she’s engaged in digging for clues, and subtly interrogating various characters throughout. Her battle of wits all carefully plotted out as if we’re reading her journal. So that we get an insight into her thoughts as well as her emotions. Watching as she slowly pieces together all the bits of the jigsaw, and figures out not one murder—that of Orlando—but also the murders of three elderly parishioners, two years earlier.

Rest assured, Flavia, like Miss Jean Marple, always works out in the end, who did it! The ending to The Grave’s A Fine And Perfect Place, is a perfect set-up for where I think the series will be heading next.

“…possibilities are so much more thrilling than certainties.”

If you are planning on reading this series, start at the beginning with book one, The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, because, like any good series—and this is one of the best—you go on a journey with the characters, especially Flavia, a young woman who’s just coming into her own.

Alan Bradley
Bantam, 2018
Paperback, 400 pages

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Book Summary

It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

What I Thought

The central focus of this novel is the character of Flavia de Luce, the 11 year-old phenom who narrates and carries the entire weight of this suspense-mystery novel. And she does it admirably, or, I should say, the author has created a character so well defined, so well fleshed out, with an array of quirks and foibles that, as a character, gives her such great depth. Quite something for a middle-aged male author to achieve. He’s made it so that Flavia de Luce is not only believable, she feels as real as any of my nieces … if they had lived in the 1950s, that is.

Flavia de Luce jumps straight out at you, grabs you by the arm, and starts talking to you as if you were a co-conspirator in her life and the unfolding mystery that lands on her doorstep — literally. Her thoughts are effervescent bubbles that pop to the surface, one after another, in a constant stream, bringing to life the action, the scenery and the characters that populate The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie. And, through her, her thoughts and actions, the whole story comes brimming to life with the kind of detail that is also, at times, laugh out loud funny.

There is a great deal of astute and observational humour in this novel, that had me laughing, smirking, and nodding my head with a smile. I felt transported back to another time, and got lost in a 50s English countryside that felt, well, almost familiar to me. The places and setting were all lovingly described, and given their own little quirks as was Buckshaw, the de Luce’s country estate. Each as much a minor character in the story, as were the supporting characters themselves, who added just enough to carry the plot along at a delightful, slow-burn.

This is not a fast-paced, action-packed story, but a gentle bicycle ride through the winding back roads of Village life, its pace and setting reminiscent of a really good Agatha Christie novel. It’s all about the build up, about finding and fitting together the clues. Looking at suspects, making deductions and following ideas and inspiration in the way you imagine a young Sherlock Holmes might do.

This is most definitely Flavia de Luce’s story, and the other characters, including her immediate family, are there in support, and, as such, are not as fully defined in nature. But that isn’t to say they are paper thin, on the contrary, they all pop off the page with their own set of quirks and foibles—from the two older sisters Ophelia and Daphne, to her recluse stamp-collecting father, and his faithful servant and friend, Dogger.

Alan Bradley has created a richly detailed world that feels like it should exist, somewhere within the folds of the English countryside. Not only that, he’s populated a string of villages and homes with just the kind of characters you come to expect, if you’ve read a good Agatha Christie novel. And more, he’s made them all quite unique to this little corner of the world. A world that I’ve fallen in love with, along with the delightful Flavia de Luce and her family. I’m looking forward to seeing what other mysteries and murders Flavia will get involved in, and solve.

Welcome to the world of an 11 year-old Miss Marple, Flavia de Luce, armed with a bicycle named Gladys.

Alan Bradley
Bantam, 2010
Paperback, 373 pages