Book Review Murder-Mystery

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

4 comments on “The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley

  1. Avatar

    One of these days I’ll start this series. That cover is outstanding!

    • Alex

      Oh, you really should, Jo. They’re just so much fun. It’s like reading an Agatha Christie if Jane Marple was a 12 year old!

  2. Avatar

    It was very convenient indeed to be able to buy poison over the counter! For the rats, obviously! I love the sound of this. I would never have discovered it myself, so thank you!

    • Alex

      Yeah, back in the 50s, when this is set, you could still do stuff like this at a local chemists and no one batted so much as an eyelid! Great time to set murders, so much more fun. 😉

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