The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is my first taste of Flavia De Luce and Alan Bradley. And it won’t be the last. Here is a page turner that will leave you gasping at the plot, if not at the daredevil stunts pulled by its young protagonist. Meet Flavia De Luce, youngest daughter, budding scientific genius and private eye.
The book is set in the 1950s in rural England. The village of Bishop’s Lacey has gathered to welcome its most prodigal daughter. Harriet De Luce has been missing for ten years, and has finally been found in the Himalayas. As the train rolls to a stop and the vanguard steps down, you realize this is not a happy reunion. Flavia, youngest daughter is first approached by that great man, the ex prime minister. As she is reeling from the shock, another stranger approaches her with a cryptic message. Before a few minutes elapse, the stranger is dead under the wheels of the train. And the procession heads for Buckshaw, the De Luce estate.
You soon realize that the narrator is a young girl of eleven far wiser and knowledgeable than her years. She has intricate knowledge of poisons and chemistry and is able to figure out the reactions needed to develop an old spool of film she finds in the attic. This reveals further mysteries and as the household readies itself for its mistress’s ‘lying in’, Flavia goes about trying to snatch a few moments of her past, trying to understand a mother she never knew.
The De Luces are impoverished but are pretty stereotypical. There is the loyal batman or orderly, elderly cook, two jealous sisters, ancient retainer aunt, well meaning vicar and wife, and a doctor who is friendly with our young protagonist. Emotions are latent at best, and no one dares exhibit them publicly, trying to maintain a stiff upper lip. Flavia is endearing with her various scientific experiments and all she hopes to achieve through them. The book has a sad overtone but it is a story well told.
The suspense keeps things interesting till the end. Although this is the first book in the series that I read, I did not feel I was missing something. In fact, I was surprised to find that this is the sixth book in the series. The style of writing is complex considering it is being told by a child, but it fits her precocious nature perfectly. You will sometimes feel sorry for Flavia as she struggles with finding common ground with her older sisters, and tries to preserve memories of her long lost mother.
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is difficult to categorize, but I think I will call it a mystery for now. But it is so much more than just a mystery. Its a treat to read something well written, meticulously researched, lacking typos and grammar, with a style that seems perfect for the subject and the time it is set in. There is no profanity or risque scenes making it suitable for just about anyone who can understand the text.
I totally recommend this one, and look forward to more of Flavia De Luce.