The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches – Alan Bradley
On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear.
Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd…
Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test.
Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself.
Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office – and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gypsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit – Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer.
I know I said this about the fourth book, but I think this is my favourite Flavia de Luce novel.
I’m afraid I have to get a little spoiler-y to tell you why I loved this one the most, so consider this your SPOILER ALERT.
In this novel, we get SO MUCH BACK STORY. I love back story. I love learning about the characters before this particular moment in their lives. In this case, I loved learning about Dogger’s past (he’s my favourite character, after Flavia herself), and hearing about her parents’ lives was just a bonus (plus Aunt Felicity is more hardcore than I would have thought).
The thing I loved the most, though (again, SPOILER ALERT) was Flavia’s main goal through the first half of the book. The fact that someone so scientifically-minded would think that she could “resurrect” her mother was heart-breaking. I think Flavia – and her readers – learned more about her personality during this adventure, and she seems to be “growing up”, becoming more aware of who she is as a person outside of her chemistry obsession.
Her relationships with her sisters continue to develop too, and the introduction of Undine – who is essentially a younger version of Flavia – changes the dynamic at Buckshaw. At the same time, some of the adults seem to treat Flavia on a more adult level, especially Inspector Hewitt and Aunt Felicity, so it’s an interesting contrast between how her sisters see her and how the adults treat her.
I also have to mention the fact that Winston Churchill shows up. He has all of three lines, but it’s a great cameo.
Like I said, Flavia’s personal journey is what makes this book my favourite, and I can’t wait to get started on her next adventure.