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Alan Bradley – Speaking from Among the Bones

February 6, 2013

LibraryThing Early Reviewers3. Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley (2013)
The Buckshaw Chronicles, Book 5

Read my review of book:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
4. I am Half-Sick of Shadows

Length: 388 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Started: 15 January 2013
Finished: 26 January 2013

Where did it come from? The LibraryThing Early Reviewer program.
Why do I have it? More Flavia!
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 10 November 2012.

Flavia’s used to
finding bodies, but this one’s
in another’s tomb!

Summary: It’s almost Easter in Bishop’s Lacey, and the town is preparing for the excavation of the tomb of its patron saint, Saint Tancred. Eleven-year-old (almost twelve!) Flavia de Luce, amateur sleuth and expert poisoner, is certainly interested about the proceedings, although she has other things on her mind. Her father’s fortunes have dwindled to the point where the family is in danger of losing Buckshaw, their family estate. Her father is more withdrawn then ever, and her two older sisters vacillate between their typical torment of Flavia and strange episodes of sisterly bonding that are, if anything, even more distressing. But their family woes are pushed out of Flavia’s head when she discovers a body in the saint’s tomb: not that of the saint, but that of the church’s organist. The police are handling it, but Flavia’s determined to get to the bottom of things herself, even if it means dealing with some strange characters and delving deep into village history – not to mention the use of good old fashioned chemistry – to solve the murder.

Review: The Flavia de Luce books are always reliably entertaining, and I think this may be the my favorite of the series so far. It’s got everything I love about the series, in just the right balance. Flavia is as plucky and irrepressible as ever, although she oftentimes seems (and sounds, in her internal monologue) older than 11-going-on-12. (Maybe it’s an effect of all of the corpses she keeps finding – this book makes 5 in less than a year. I’ve ranted about that before, but in this book, Flavia herself acknowledges that it’s kind of strange, and thinks that maybe she’s a tad morbid.) In any case, she’s a great character in her own rights, but made better by all of the supporting characters around her. Her interactions with her sisters have always been my favorite parts of these books, and watching their relationships grow and evolve with their changing circumstances has been a treat. Bradley also deftly weaves in hints and details about the backstory of some of the tertiary characters, which really helps bring the village of Bishop’s Lacey to life as a place inhabited by real people (albeit with a higher per capita murder rate than I suspect was typical of most 1950s British towns).

I also thought the mystery in this book was really well done. Although my primary reason for reading these books is always Flavia, I like the mystery to be worth the space it takes up as well. I was a little disappointed by I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, since I thought the mystery got somewhat short shrift, but in Speaking from Among the Bones, the murder is right up front, the clues are plentiful if not always obvious, the investigations involve plenty of Flavia sneaking around and talking her way out of trouble, there are plenty of good red herrings, and the whole thing was just very well paced and satisfying. The only little thing I could complain about was that the chemistry has fallen a bit from its former prominence earlier in the series. It’s still there, it’s just no longer the focus… but there are more than enough good things going on in this book that I didn’t miss it (too much). 4.5 out of 5 stars.

chRecommendation: Flavia’s a hoot, and while each book is fairly well self-contained, the “background story” – that of Flavia and her family and the town – is a slow build over the series, and is in my opinion one of the best things about the books, so they really should be read in order. But I’d recommend the series as a whole to cozy mystery fans and anyone who likes smart, sassy heroines who aren’t above occasionally poisoning their sisters’ lipsticks.

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First Line: Blood dripped from the neck of the severed head and fell in a drizzle of red raindrops, clotting into a ruby pool upon the black and white tiles.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 12: ““Which pipe is it in?” I asked. “Did you happen to notice?” “The sixteen-foot diapason,” she said shakily.” – Either of the two principal stops on a pipe organ that form the tonal basis for the entire scale of the instrument.
  • p. 157: “Good old, jolly old everyday nose oil to unstick a good old, jolly old everyday mortise lock.” – a lock set into a rectangular cavity in a door so that the mechanism of the lock is enclosed by the door
  • p. 362: ““What a delicious simnel cake,” Antigone Hewit was saying.” – A rich fruitcake sometimes covered with almond paste and traditionally eaten at mid-Lent, Easter, and Christmas.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 6, 2013 10:51 am

    I’ve only read the first book but I loved Flavia! I’m glad to know this mystery is well done.

    • February 17, 2013 7:52 pm

      Kathy – Flavia’s so great, and her adventures are just so much fun.

  2. February 6, 2013 2:28 pm

    I’ve read the first three and loved Flavia, but am disappointed that the chemistry is more in the background in this one, it’s one my favorite things about these books. And I was just thinking about how the books are set like a month apart so that Flavia doesn’t age – she can’t possibly spend ALL her time chasing murderers, can she?

    • February 17, 2013 7:54 pm

      Joanna – It sure seems like that’s all she does! I think the five books have taken place over slightly less than a year – Flavia’s talking about her birthday coming up in this book – so they’re maybe two to three months apart, instead of one. :)

  3. February 8, 2013 6:37 pm

    I love, love, love Flavia!! This one and the first were my favorites in the series. Great review!!
    Beth’s Book-Nook Blog

    • February 17, 2013 7:55 pm

      Beth – I hadn’t really thought about ranking the series, but I think you’re right, this and the first would be tied.


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