Flavia de Luce is a one-of-a-kind character, a quirky blend of Harriet the Spy and Sherlock Holmes, all blended with a keen interest in poisons and chemistry. Alan Bradley, the 70-something Canadian man that he is, ingeniously gives voice to the 11 year British genius that is Flavia. If you haven’t yet indulged in a Flavia de Luce mystery, in each of the six novels, calamity strikes Buckshaw, the crumbling de Luce manor, and the nearby village of Bishop’s Lacey. Flavia has a talent for finding dead bodies and, luckily, for solving mysteries, bringing into play her prodigious acting, eavesdropping, researching, and chemical analysis skills. Buckshaw is home to Flavia and her older sisters Daphne and Ophelia, their father, and troubled jack-of-all-trades Dogger, with Mrs. Mullet to feed them all. The looming specter at Buckshaw is the girls’ mother Harriet, the beautiful, daring, unforgettable woman who disappeared in the Himalayas a decade before.
Bishop’s Lacey has a cast of characters that would make Agatha Christie proud, from the Vicar and his wife to the former German prisoner of war turned farm hand, Dieter. The mysteries themselves take a back seat to this rich tapestry of post-war life, and it’s the characters themselves that compel the novels.
To read them in order:
- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (audio)
- The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (audio)
- A Red Herring Without Mustard (audio)
- I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (audio)
- Speaking from Among the Bones (audio)
- The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (audio)
If you have read them, and were sad that the series was set to finish at #6, the good news is that Bradley has signed on to write four more of Flavia’s adventures, and Sam Mendes has optioned the series for television, although it’s not due out for another year at least.
In the meantime, learn more about Dogger’s wartime experiences (an important part of his character, and much is revealed in #6), look for Eric Lomax’s memoir, The Railway Man: A POW's Searing Account of War, Brutality and Forgiveness (also coming to theaters as a feature film starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman in April).
If Buckshaw fascinates, I would recommend two other novels where a moldering manor house and old family secrets take center stage: In Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours (audio), a long lost letter pulls Edie back in time to Milderhurst Castle to untangle family ties, and in The Little Stranger (audio), Sarah Waters adds a supernatural twist to post-war village life.