Flavia is moving into new territory in this last mystery in the series. The latest book (“Speaking from Among the Bones”), before this one, ends with a cliffhanger when Flavia’s dad announced that her mother was ‘coming home’.
I liked all of the Flavia de Luce mysteries. (In fact, I really, REALLY liked them.) They are creative, well-written, and Bradley’s characterization, though not too intensely delving into personalities, ‘works’ for me. His approach to using a pre-teen to solve mysteries is fresh and simply fun to read. This last one in the series, however, is not so much of a mystery as more of a ‘backstory-cum-family-relationships-cum-WW2-spy-story” novel. Regardless, it did keep my interest.
However, I think that the author in this last book tried to tie up all the loose ends and characters from the previous novels and in doing so, lost much of the suspense and intrigue of a bona fide murder mystery. Not much to be solved here, not many suspects to pull from. The initial body-under-the-train puzzle is hardly referred to or pursued as a mystery to be solved in much of the novel, until near the end of the book. Instead, the reader is trying to discover along with Flavia, who betrayed and caused her mother’s death, and the scenario and plot is set within her mother’s funeral and wake, which makes for an unusual story.
In this book, we find out more about what Dogger and Flavia’s father went through during the war (although not to any great extent), which helps the reader understand their actions, and why Flavia’s mother had left home. Bucklands is still in trouble with no easy solution in sight, beyond selling it to recoup the de Luce family finances.
There are emotional scenes but often they seem to be just stuck into the story to give it some interest, without much rhyme or reason. Flavia continues to investigate but this time, she is not as interested in solving a murder as she is in trying a scientific experiment which is doomed to fail from the beginning (and the reader cannot help but emphathise with her desire to change the situation, and her inability to face reality).
Tons of villagers turn out for the wake without a lot of explanation as to what their ties were with the de Luces’. Suddenly, after five previous novels with little to no interaction with villagers, to have them all line up for hours to pay their respects was, this reader’s eyes, a bit unbelievable. A new young character is introduced, Undine, which may allow for further mystery-solving endeavors in the future.
However Flavia is still Flavia. The sibling relationships seem to have improved, mainly due to them having to cope with the loss of their mother. Aunt Felicity also appears on the scene in this novel and quickly becomes a main character and interest in the story. Flavia is still an engaging character, with very definite likes and dislikes, and her maturity level is interspersed with vignettes of a normal almost-12 year old. Her grasp of adult situations and personalities are certainly beyond that of a twelve year-old, and often surprises the reader. Take a look at how she views, for instance, the vicar’s wife and her job:
“What kind of life did she have, when you stop to think about it? All of her days and nights were give over to visiting the sick, arranging flowers for the church, chairing meetings of this committee and that, booking the parish hall, cooking three meals a day for her husband, typing up and printing handbills and posters on a hectograph or churning out church bulletins on a Banda machine, to say nothing of managing her husband’s timetable, mending his clothes, starching his surplices, running the church library, and listening to the troubles of everyone in Bishop’s Lacey.
Being married to a man who dressed himself in vestments was no holiday camp.”
Pretty smart for an eleven-year old to understand the challenges of a vicar’s wife and all of her tasks!
Alan Bradley has certainly not lost his creativity, but this attempt to structure a novel with so many ends to tie up from previous books, for me, was a bit clumsy in this last book (although I must admit, I think this is an almost impossible task for any novelist working with a book of this length). Especially since I had read all of the previous novels, I did enjoy the book and was happy to read how the author finalizes the story, but this one, in my estimation, simply wasn’t as fun to read as the others in the series.