Book Review: “The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches” by Alan Bradley

December 19, 2017

It was nice to get back to the audiobook editions of the Flavia de Luce mysteries read by Jayne Entwistle. While I enjoyed the volumes the local library held in hardcover, I missed Flavia’s help passing the time I spend every day at the wheel of my car. I also missed the opportunity to savor, at the pace of the spoken word, the atmospherics, rich language, imagery, and humor of these well-told tales.

As Flavia closes in on her 12th birthday, much about her remains the same. She is still devoted to chemistry, especially poisons. She still enjoys a complex relationship with her brooding father, her bright and talented older sisters Ophelia and Daphne, and her tough Aunt Felicity. She is still handy at solving the murders that somehow always happen in front of her. And she still feels cheated out of knowing her mother, who disappeared in a Himalayan climbing accident when Flavia was only a year old. But now a big change has happened: Harriet de Luce has been found. In this sixth book in the series, Flavia’s mother comes home. With that, everything will soon be altered.

Harriet, of course, is still dead. Only now, it’s official. While Flavia would prefer to use the opportunity provided by a zinc inner coffin filled with dry ice to try an experiment in resurrection on her long-frozen mother, an investigation from high up in Her Majesty’s service forces her to redirect her energies. Instead, Flavia tries to learn who pushed a stranger under the train the day Harriet’s remains arrived at Buckshaw, and whether it might be connected with a mysterious film she finds and develops, a message in invisible writing that she decodes, and the suspicious behavior of one of her family’s houseguests during the days leading up to Harriet’s funeral.

The clues in Flavia’s hands may also determine what happens to Buckshaw itself, which the family has been in danger of losing ever since Harriet disappeared without leaving a will. And then there’s the hint that certain interested parties, including perhaps Winston Churchill himself, may have their eye on Flavia to serve England someday as a secret agent. Wouldn’t that just be spiffing?

Flavia’s enthusiasms are infectious. Her feelings and their causes are touching. Her suspicions are hair-raising. And her sisters’ antics at their mother’s funeral gave me one of my biggest laughs in recent memory. I could use more like it. In the seventh book in the series, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, our young sleuth ships off to a girls’ school in Canada. One hopes this will be only the beginning of Chapter Two of a vast Flavia de Luce saga.

Interested? Buy a copy here.