Flavia de Luce is a brilliant 11-year-old with a talent for annoying her older sisters and a gift for chemistry (the latter frequently put into service of the former.) She lives a rather circumscribed life at Buckshaw, the stately house that is the ancestral home of the de Luce family. Her father is a recluse who never recovered from her mother’s death ten years earlier, and her sisters Ophelia (“Feely”) and Daphne (“Daffy”) are too absorbed in boys and books, respectively, to pay her any but the most negative of attention. (Much of which she brings on her own head, what with the poisoned lipsticks and purloined pearls–she really is a terror!)
A strange sequence of events one summer day in 1950 shocks Flavia out of her potion-concocting and sister-tormenting, and sets her on a new path: detecting. First, the family cook discovers a dead bird on the kitchen doorstep; one look at the postage stamp curiously impaled on its beak sends Flavia’s normally imperturbable father reeling. That night, Flavia overhears her father in heated conversation with a stranger, who attempts to extort money in exchange for his silence about a murder that her father, shockingly, admits to. Then, at dawn the next day, Flavia discovers this same stranger breathing his last in Buckshaw’s back garden.
That final breath (” ‘Vale,’ it said.”) will be a critical clue to solving a whole patchwork of mysteries, ancient and modern. Along the way, Flavia (and we) will learn much about philately, Victorian assassination plots, village politics, and the dangers of life at elite British boys’ schools–and we, at least, will love every minute of it. Poor Flavia has rather a rougher time of it: the run-ins with police, the skulking about and trespassing, the imprison–ah, but no, I can say no more! You must pick it up and explore its delights for yourself.
When I was about two-thirds of the way through the book, I started hoping that this was the first in a series of novels. Flavia is such an interesting character, in a rich background, with so many tantalizing threads lying about with their ends just dangling: I had to hope Bradley harbored long-range plans for our brilliant little miss. Imagine my delight, then, to read this bit in the About the Author section: “In 2007, Bradley won the Debut Dagger Award of the Crimewriter’s Association for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first book in a new series featuring the brilliant young British sleuth Flavia de Luce.” Cheers, Alan Bradley; I shall enjoy following Flavia’s every investigation, whether into the poisonous potential of an English country garden, or the murderous impulses of English country folk. And thanks very much to Carl V. for the recommendation of this delightful novel!