Flavia de Luce mysteries are always eagerly awaited by me. I pre-ordered this sixth installment, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, back in May, and wondered how I was going to wait until January to find out how the return of Harriet would transform the crumbling Buckshaw and its inhabitants. Thanks to NetGalley, my wait was shortened last week, and as these reads usually go, I sped through the whole thing in less than a day.
So do the dead bodies continue to pile up in Bishop's Lacey? Somehow always discovered by a very precocious eleven-year-old chemist with a penchant for poisons? Bradley is too clever to let his appealing formula go stale, and this installment of the series separates Flavia from her usual roles a bit and ties many loose ends of the storyline together. Family secrets and a movement out of childhood frame this story and lend it a depth not present in its five predecessors. Bradley was originally only contracted to write six of these novels, and it is clear that he intended to present a reveal on a large scale here. Now contracted to write four more, he also took the opportunity to open up a new path for the lovely Flavia.
This is a very satisfying read, my second favorite of the series (nothing can outstrip the freshness of the first and my delight at Bradley's surprising ability to channel the voice of a young and brilliant girl). It is touching and full of excitement that dances around Winston Churchill and pheasant sandwiches and black sheep and plane rides and tenderly exposed vulnerabilities. I recommend it highly but would caution that unlike the other novels in the series, this is not really a stand-alone. If you have not yet had the opportunity to read the others, please do so before picking this one up. It will add so much to this read, and reading the sixth before the others would also spoil the wonderfully rendered ambiguities of the first five.