This is the book that nearly brought me down during the recent TBR Dare. It arrived through the mail slot a week before its publication in February and I spent the rest of that month and all of March avoiding its bright yellow allure. It was inhaled as quickly as the two before it in the series, and now I will have to wait a while for another. So in the meantime, I have persuaded my teenage daughter to give the books a try. Which somehow makes it all a little better.
The eleven year old rule-breaking and poison loving chemist, Flavia de Luce, has returned for another installment of mid-century murder and secrets in the small rural community of Bishop's Lacey. The story begins with Flavia having her fortune told by a gypsy at a local fair, a gypsy that will soon be discovered in her caravan, on de Luce property, with her skull bashed in. Thanks to quick thinking on Flavia's part, her life is saved, but in seeking the perpetrator of this violence, Flavia discovers a corpse hanging from a fountain by her home, Buckshaw, and a trail to a painter that leads her closer to a more authentic knowledge of her deceased mother.
The mysteries here are well detailed and satisfactorily concluded, but the draw of these books is the rich character development. The real mystery of the series is our young protagonist herself as she struggles with reconciling a hazy past with the person she will become. Like so many very bright young people, she is not yet emotionally equipped to cope with what she understands intellectually. Flavia is able to unearth any matter of material facts, and is exceptionally perceptive when it comes to the maneuverings of others, but she has yet to allow herself to deal with the pain of a lost mother, a financially struggling and distant father, and familial relationships that do not feel storybook supportive. She retreats rather than engages and in this telling line reveals her comfort level: “whenever I’m with other people, part of me shrinks a little. Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company.”
Those around her have become subtly aware of what this devilish and articulate young woman requires of them, and this book delightfully makes the reader aware of this transition at Buckshaw at the same pace Flavia herself begins to suspect that her family and friends are needed more than she was willing to admit. Charming and engaging as always.