The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

March 9, 2013

Linda Cannon: Chemistry-loving lass stars in mystery series

JOPLIN, Mo. — I don't normally review fiction, but I'm making an exception this time because there's a new title in one of my favorite series that I would like to let everyone know about, if they haven't already heard about it. It's "Speaking from Among the Bones," a Flavia de Luce novel by C. Alan Bradley -- the fifth in the series. All the books are written in first person and told by Flavia herself.

Flavia is a most unusual sleuth. She lives in the crumbling Buckshaw Manse estate, just outside a small English village in the early 1950s.

In some ways, Flavia is definitely a child. But in other ways, she is advanced far beyond her years. She's 11 in the first book ("The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie"), but has aged to 12 by the time we arrive at the fifth. The author manages to convey her naivetŽ about some matters, along with her precocity, amazingly well.

She loves chemistry and is particularly fond of poisons -- any and all kinds. She has a laboratory that was left intact at her home by her deceased great uncle, where she conducts experiments and mixes up deadly concoctions. She frequently imparts plans to use her poisons to her two older sisters, who delight in tormenting her.

Their mother was lost in a mountain-climbing accident, and Flavia was too young to remember her. One of the sisters' favorite ways of torturing Flavia is telling her that she was left by fairies, or was adopted or whatever they think of to tell her to make her think she isn't really part of the family. They aren't very nice girls, to put it mildly.

Flavia's father survived life as a prisoner of war in World War I, along with Dogger, who served with him and now works odd jobs on the estate. Dogger is Flavia's best and only friend.

Dogger has episodes relating to his trauma during the war and is a bit of a mystery. He has a lot of medical knowledge, so perhaps he was a doctor. That, along with just about everything else about the household, is something that simply isn't talked about -- including the family's extremely precarious financial position.

Other recurring characters include Inspector Hewitt and his men who represent the official investigations of the peculiar deaths that keep occurring with astonishing regularity in and around the village of Bishop's Lacey. It's a bit reminiscent of Miss Marple in that sense. Seems like someone would notice all the murders going on in those quiet little English villages!

Like Miss Marple and the dozens of other amateur sleuths who followed her, Flavia just can't help from stumbling upon bodies and discovering clues as to how and why they died.

The mysteries are good, and the means and methods of death are interesting, but it's the telling of the tale that grabs the reader and draws him in.

The plots of the novels are distinctly secondary to the unique atmosphere of the books.

Whether you like mysteries or not, if you're looking for an interesting character to read about, you could do a lot worse then the tough yet tender Miss Flavia de Luce.

Linda Cannon is collection development/circulation librarian for the Joplin Public Library.

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