This is the third Flavia De Luce novel. I loved the first one (what’s not to love about an 11 year old girl who adores chemistry). The second was all right but the third brings it back up a notch. This was very entertaining.
It’s set in England of the 1930’s and like most child detectives we have to have dead/inattentive to the point of neglect parents because who else is going to allow their kids this much freedom. Harriet de Luce died while mountain climbing in Tibet (more on that later) and Flavia’s dad has never really recovered. He stays lost in his stamps though in this book we’re all doom and gloom about he’s about to lose Buckshaw mansion which was his wife’s who left no will and there’s no money to keep it (I’m assuming it’s one of those enormous aristocrat homes from the hey days of the English monarchy from the description). Flavia has two older sisters, Ophelia “Feely” and Daphne “Daffy” who stray into absolute cruelty in this book which is beginning to bother me. There’s not really a glimmer in any of the books that they actual care for their sister and maybe they really do blame Flavia for their mother’s death (it’s hinted that Harriet might have had post partum depression which lead to her going to Tibet and dying).
It opens with Flavia visiting Fenella Faa, a Gypsy fortuneteller who tells her she needs to save a woman trapped on a cold mountain who she naturally thinks is her mother and manages to accidentally burn down the woman’s tent (which was a quibble for me, since she was so unemotional about it for a 12 year old girl). To make it up to her, she takes Fenella and her wagon to the Palings, an area on the river running through Buckshaw’s estate so the old lady can camp. Fenella confesses Flavia’s sisters put her up to it, that it wasn’t true. On the way they cross paths with Mrs. Bull who howls about Fenella having killed her baby, a child who had gone missing several years before.
Flavia goes back to check on the old woman in the middle of the night only to find her beaten nearly to death. Flavia gets help and saves her and the mystery begins. Porcelain, Fenella’s granddaughter shows up and she and Flavia begin an odd relationship. In the meantime, Brookie Harewood, young town bully, gets caught by Flavia in the living room playing with old, expensive firedogs. She tells no one but later finds a storehouse where the real firedogs are hidden.
Before long, another dead body shows up hanging from Poseidon’s trident in Buckshaw’s fountain. Counterfeited antiques, a strange Christian sect, gypsies, missing babies and Buckshaw history all muddle together to make for a fine mystery.
While I really did love the mystery I had a few quibbles. The ending was a bit deus ex machine especially in the forks it took in the road. I’m also hoping that something will happen one way or another with the money problems since it’s wearing thin. I’m not really sure we can move them from Buckshaw since the estate often plays such a role but Bradley has set it up so that it’s hard to see them staying.
The other thing I’m wondering about has to do with Harriet. While we’ve always known how she died, it seemed to loom heavy in this one, especially when Porcelain seems to have some real psychic ability making Flavia think possibly Fenella’s prediction wasn’t entirely faked. I keep thinking something has to happen with Harriet. I’m wondering if she’s not really dead or there is a will or something. I doubt they could have found her body and shipped it home for burial (I’m pretty sure we’ve never visited a grave but I could be wrong. There could be just a headstone somewhere). Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like it’s building to something. Side note, the first Flavia novel won a half dozen awards which usually doesn’t mean much to me but I think in this case they’re earned.