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Shelf Life – Feb. 21

Speaking From Among the Bones,
by Alan Bradley,
@SPL: FIC Bradl

If you’re already familiar with the Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley, you’ll want to read Speaking From Among the Bones, the fifth book in the series. If you haven’t yet encountered Flavia, you have lots of great reading ahead of you, starting with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Flavia de Luce is a precocious 11-year-old who lives in the English countryside in the 1950s. She has two difficult older sisters, a distant father, a deceased mother, and lives in a crumbling old family mansion, Buckshaw.

The five books in this series take us through a year in her life, a year which is strangely full of dead bodies.

Throughout the Buckshaw Chronicles, we’ve encountered Flavia’s particular interest in chemistry and in sleuthing. In this book, there is additional character development, a clever mystery, some détente between sisters – and one heck of a cliffhanger ending as well.

Flavia is intrepid and uses her age and gender as a decoy in her investigations. Along with her trusty bicycle, Gladys, she travels the countryside and solves local murders, to the chagrin of the local police inspector. In this volume, Flavia is instrumental in discovering the whereabouts of the missing church organist Mr. Collicutt. Unfortunately, he is already dead. And occupying the long-closed tomb of the church’s patron saint, St Tancred.

This sets off a whirlwind search for clues and patterns, with Flavia encountering two other amateur sleuths on the case (both adults), deliberating on the history and existence of holy relics, meeting people who mistake her for her long-lost mother Harriet, ruminating about her place in both her own family and the wider world, crawling through the muck of mysterious graveyard tunnels, falling into mortal danger, and creating new chemistry experiments to prove her theories … just to name a few of her activities.

There is a great deal of action in this story, with a tangle of characters to follow. Yet Flavia is still the heart of the story, and in this book she seems to have more heart, somehow. She is becoming ever so slightly more self-aware as her world is changing around her.

The family is on the verge of losing Buckshaw, and eldest sister Feely is shortly to be married and leave the family circle altogether. These things give Flavia an edge of anxiety that she doesn’t necessarily recognize in herself, but which add depth to her character.

Flavia de Luce was a delight to read about right from the beginning, and book five has topped even the excellence of the previous four books. It is finely written, amusingly acerbic, full of personality and pathos, and leaves us wanting book six rather desperately. An excellent entry in this series.

– Melanie Kindrachuk, librarian

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