Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Flavia de Luce Mysteries - Alan Bradley


Flavia de Luce in her lab

Canadian writer Allan Bradley has knocked one out of the literary park with his endearingly precocious 11 year-old sleuth named Flavia de Luce. Stop! Do not dismiss this as a book for children! Flavia ingratiates herself into deliciously macabre stories and yet is still completely relatable. Who doesn't remember having their childhood ideals dismissed as frivolous? Flavia is just at the point in life where she is leaving childhood behind - if she ever was a child - and preparing to join the next stage of not being taken seriously by adults. She is both encumbered and assisted by her age. As an 11 year old she can blend into the wood work and gain insight and details by eavesdropping. However she can just as easily be grounded because of her penchant for following trouble.

Gladys's concern for Flavia (right) is almost palpable

She has two stalwart allies in the household one by the name of Dogger, an ex-soldier plagued by PTSD who is her father's loyal retainer, right-hand man and jack-of-all-trades. I love Dogger and wish I'd had a Dogger when I was a kid. Dogger is the only one in the house who knows Flavia, knows what she is capable of and looks out for her without letting her know he is doing so. He knows she would be most put out by this. She may sneak into the house and up to her room covered in mud and god knows what from sleuthing in a graveyard and Dogger will meet her on the stairs, raise not one eyebrow about her condition, ask not one question and quietly inform her he will be bringing a change of clothes and towels to enable her clandestine clean up. You get the sense that he loves her completely the way she is while her sisters would love her completely if she were someone else. The other is Gladys, her bicycle. Yes it's silly to count a bike as an ally but Flavia imbues her bike with human qualities and completely personifies the bike by her references to and consideration of Gladys's likes and dislikes and you begin to see her as a real character as well.

Flavia lives with her father and two sisters in a once grand family home called Buckshaw. It was her late mother's estate. Buckshaw is walking distance from an English country village called Bishop's Lacey, described by the Globe and Mail like this:

All in all, it's a perfectly detailed and credible English village in the Agatha Christie manner, inhabited by people you can believe in and sympathize with. But determined sleuth Flavia de Luce is the bright centre of both books, with a voice so engaging and amusing that it's easy to overlook her unlikely depth and breadth of knowledge



The titles of this series are compelling just in themselves.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
A Red Herring Without Mustard
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
Speaking From Among the Bones
The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches (coming in 2014)

All the titles are quotes from literary works. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag coming from Sir Walter Raleigh To His Son, for example.

She really is a delightful character and do not let the fact that she's 11 throw you off. While the stories are perfectly appropriate for today's 11 year old audience because the heroine is an 11 year old in the 1950's, I suspect these books were written for us adults because every adult I know who reads them loves them.


Sam Mendes has bought the rights to the Flavia de Luce mysteries and intends to make a TV series based on them. I, for one, am not holding my breath. I can't imagine anyone being able to capture Flavia on television the way I have captured her in my mind and heart.

Alan Bradley is currently retired and writing and traveling with his wife. He's the epitome of adorable and is completely credible writing from an 11 year old girl's point of view. I know. I used to be one. Read more about him here.

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