Any long time readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Alan Bradley’s series of Flavia De Luce mysteries. They have become one of the highlights of every reading year (as they roughly come out once a year) as they nicely sit in the very middle of the crime genre, somewhere between the diehard crime, as it were, and the cosier mysteries. There is a wonderful mix of genuine mystery, intrigue and chills along with laughs, jokes and a lovely 1930’s domestic setting in a manor house. All in all a joy, so I was thrilled when ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ arrived and instantly devoured it a few weeks ago when it arrived.
For those of you who have yet to read a Flavia De Luce story yet – and who clearly haven’t been listening to me begging you to do so which is, frankly, a little rude – then you have an absolute treat in store for you. For those of you who have I am preaching to the converted who have already roamed the corridors of Buckshaw Manor, especially Flavia’s chemistry lab in the disused wing, and spent time following precocious 11 year old Flavia, on her trusty bicycle Gladys, around the village of Bishop’s Lacey in the countryside of 1950’s England. This idyllic setting is also a place of many a murder, the latest of which Flavia witnesses the uncovering of at her local church.
“A cold shiver shook me. A goose had waddled over my grave.”
It is the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death in Bishop’s Lacey and so to mark the occasion, much to the horror of some, it has been decided that his crypt will be opened and his body exhumed. This is just Flavia’s cup of tea, dead bodies and putrification are her ideal table talk and should you wish to befriend her these (along with poisons and chemicals) would make you friends for life, and so she has to watch it all unfold. Yet when the crypt is opened a much fresher body is found in the form of the church organist, Mr Collicut. Who would want to kill the local church organist and why? Whilst the police are on the case Flavia feels that as she found the body, once again, the mystery is very much owned by her and so should be solved by her and so her hunt to solve the case and catch the killers is on…
For me the main thing that I love about these books is, firstly, the fact that I never guess who the killer is and, secondly, simply spending time with Flavia herself. As I have said, possibly many times, before she is completely precocious and has a certain rather high self regard and yet it is nigh on impossible not to love her. She can be spiky and vile with her sisters, which makes for much laughter, and yet vulnerable and a little lost when it comes to the difficult relationship she has with her father, and the fact she wants his approval so much, and the loss of her missing mother Harriet. Overall though she is plucky, passionate about chemicals and gives a lot of sauce to the adults all around her which we admire her and love her all the more for. She is one of my very favourite heroines of fiction, unlikely as she maybe.
“Where was I going to find decent lubricating oil in the bottom of a reeking tomb at two-thirty in the morning?
The answer came to me almost as quickly as the question.
There is an unsaturated hydrocarbon with the molecular formula C30H50 and the lovely name of “squalene”, which is found in yeast, olive oil, fresh eggs, the liver of certain sharks and the skin of the human nose.
Because of its extremely high viscosity, it has been used by clockmakers to oil cogs, by butlers to polish ebony, by burglars to lubricate revolvers, and by smokers to baby the bowls of their favourite pipes.
Good old, jolly old everyday nose oil to unstuck a good old, jolly old everyday mortise lock.”
Whilst this is the fifth in the series of books, and I actually think ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ is one of the strongest yet, Bradley is a master of giving new readers enough hints at what has gone before without repeating it for pages and pages for firm fans. We still have the mystery of Flavia’s mother and what really happened there which thrills and compels those of us who have been pondering it for all the books and yet I imagine would make new readers want to go back, and so you should.
Bradley also keeps things fresh too, each novel has made Flavia step a little further out of the grounds of Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey and so more and more of her world is revealed. In this latest instalment we visit Nether-Wolsey and the gothic delights of Bogmore Hall. We also get to meet many new characters, even if one is a chicken called Esmeralda – I did a small whoop of delight at this as, as a young child I had seven hens and a duck called Rapunzel, Flavia and I would have been best friends I feel, though I am not sure she would like a human sidekick much, a chicken and a bicycle seem to do.
“I glanced up at Esmeralda, who was perched on a cast-iron laboratory stand, cocking her head to keep an eye on the two eggs she had laid on my bed: two eggs which I was now steaming in a covered glass flask. If she was saddened by the sight of her offspring being boiled alive, Esmeralda did not show it.”
As you can tell, and it should be no surprise really, I utterly adored ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and I think it might be one of my favourite Flavia De Luce mysteries yet. I have to say though, Alan Bradley how could you do it to us? The cliff hanger that you are left with is just too much! (Whatever you do, do not read the last line in the book until, erm, the last line.) How are we meant to wait until next year for a new book? How?
If you are a fan of the series, and its author, then you might like to listen to the latest episode of You Wrote The Book (and hear me being a complete fan boy) which you can find here. Who else has read ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and what did you make of it? Who else is a big fan of the Flavia books, how do you feel about them coming to a screen near us soon? Who has yet to read her, again shame on you, but might give her a whirl now?