My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This is another read where I’m torn between three and four stars and I rounded down because I know how good this series can be and in places I feel like Bradley has written himself into a corner and is searching for a way out. There were just some elements that were very weak, especially the end.
The beginning was also a bit slow. It’s six months since the sisters’ father has died and Aunt Felicity wants to take control of Flavia and Daffy and sell off Buckshaw manor. As far as she’s concerned Mrs. Mullet and Dogger can go pound salt. Feely’s marriage to Dieter has been put on hold because even in the 1950s mourning periods are a thing (and well yeah it might seem disrespectful to get married soon after your father has passed). The sisters along with Dogger are on vacation and are punting along the river with Flavia considering suicide because she doesn’t want to go with Aunt Felicity.
Just then she hooks a dead man’s mouth with her fingers and of course she’s hooked on solving how he ended up in the river. With forethought not often seen in a tween, Flavia takes a daub of the purging from the man, Orlando Whithead’s mouth for later forensic experimentation. They end up at a local inn and Dogger steps right up as Flavia’s Watson. In fact, this novel is Dogger’s more so than Flavia. If anything, she’s overly boastful and sort of annoying in this but Dogger shows so much knowledge in this and foresight (more on that later) that I have to wonder if he was actually a spy or some sort of special forces in the war.
As Flavia investigates she learns that Orlando was an actor with a famous local mentor, Poppy who made the error of becoming a middle-aged woman, something an actress just cannot do. Orlando had his demons, an alcoholic now addicted to the drug used to get alcoholics off alcohol. Worse, his father, the local priest, was hung for killing three of his parishioners but Flavia quickly begins to wonder, was the priest guilty?
Almost everyone in town seems to have something to hide either regarding Orlando or to his father’s crime. Even their proprietress seems to have something to hide, not the least of which is she’s the author of a somewhat romantic/erotic book of poetry that Daffy is familiar with. Another highlight of this book is finally Flavia’s older sisters aren’t being utterly dreadful to her. Feely is barely in this but Daffy on the other hand, actively helps her sister investigate.
Another highlight is Claire, a nurse that Dogger knows, presumably the one who treated him after he was rescued from the prison camp he was tortured in I loved her, and I hope there’s a reason to bring her back in future books.
I enjoyed the middle of the book which really picked up the pace from the slow start. On the other hand, the ending was just dumb. It felt like huh, who did this? I dunno how about this person whom we really had no reason to suspect. And it just sort of jars to an end with the idea Flavia is not going to go with Aunt Felicity and open her own detective agency. I also felt there was a serious lack of acknowledgement of Flavia’s father’s death. Now she’s not exactly one for deep thinking on her emotions but there is almost no mention of it once you get past the beginning. You can’t tell if she’s sad, a little afraid of the future, nothing. It’s just not there. That said, I’m looking forward to the next one and I hope there’s this level of Dogger in it because he and Flavia make a great time.
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